The fires may be raging in Northwest Canada, but the smoke was in South Beach last night as the Denver Nuggets answered and took a 2-1 series lead in Game Three over the Miami Heat.
“Let’s talk about effort. This is the NBA Finals. We are talking about effort. That’s a huge concern of mine. You guys probably thought I was just making up some storyline after Game One when I said we didn’t play well. We didn’t play well … tonight … we had guys out there who were just, whether feeling sorry for themselves for not making shots or thinking they can just turn it on or off – this is not the pre-season, this is not the regular season. This is the NBA Finals. That to me is really perplexing, disappointing.” — Denver head coach Michael Malone speaking after Game Two’s loss
It’s a post-game speech that Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra could have plagiarized after the Heat’s lukewarm performance at home in Game Three, where they had home court advantage but gave it right back.
CORRECTION: The Denver Nuggets took it back. Took back something they should have never let slip away.
The Nuggets faced Malone’s challenge instead of just being satisfied to have made the NBA Finals and surrendering their dreams to fear.
Winners are dreamers who never give up.
“First two games, they won the fourth quarter; tonight, we win the fourth quarter, we win the game,” Malone said. It was by a point, but Malone and the Denver Nuggets will take it.
The game was actually won in the second and third quarters, where Denver blistered the Heat, 58-44 … and on the shoulders of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, and the defense of Aaron Gordon.
Both Jokic and Murray finished the all out assault with triple double performances, breaking and setting records in the process. The marks were first for playoffs and amazingly in an NBA Finals, also a first.
“By far, their greatest performance as a duo in their seven years together.” – Michael Malone
“You have to expect there to be elite talent in the Finals, and both those guys are elite-level talent.” – Erik Spoelstra
“It’s greatness, man. It’s greatness. That’s a dynamic duo right there.” – Aaron Gordon
Jokic was amazing and smooth with his 32 points, 21 rebounds, and 10 assists. And although Murray seemingly followed along with the triple double trend, he was the first quarter catalyst that put the Nuggets in the game and kept them there until the end, netting a team high 34 points to go along with his 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
Denver setting the bar at a Rocky Mountain high along their journey.
The only haze that seemed to hold the Nuggets back was Michael Porter, Jr. standing around much of the game like an on-court spectator; the only reason I knew he was on the Denver roster is because security didn’t tackle him and remove him.
Porter scored two points and was often replaced by Christian Braun, who came off the bench for 15 points and several remarkable hustle plays.
Jimmy Butler may have scored a team high 28 points for Miami, but the leadership mentality fell on Bam Adebayo’s shoulders, as he was the emotional and inspirational leader on the floor for the Heat, but it wasn’t enough, despite his 22 point, 17 rebound effort.
Denver took Gabe Vincent out by getting him in early foul trouble, and Caleb Martin was the only person off the bench who could muster a double digit performance with 10 points. Duncan Robinson only had three threes, and Max Strus only three points.
If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.
As the great Sidney Deane (Wesley Snipes) would say, “It’s like this – you either smoke or you get smoked … and you got smoked.”
Challenges are what’s making this NBA Finals interesting. And those challenges are what will make this Larry O’Brien trophy meaningful – for the Denver Nuggets OR the Miami Heat.
I said whoever wins Game Three wins the series. I said that thinking it would be the Miami Heat. The Denver Nuggets proved me wrong and I hope the Miami Heat do the same in Game Four.
I thought it would go five games; now I could see it going seven. Some days I’m spot on, living up to my T-Money nickname; but in this series, some days I’m like a toilet – fat round, and full of …
The Heat are a team that we have seen be challenged and answer the bell time and time again this postseason.
To survive, the Heat need to bring the heat in Game Four – and I’m not just talking about the 43 candles on Udonis Haslem’s birthday cake this Friday (Happy Birthday, young man).
Will they be satisfied going from the lowest-scoring team, a play-in team who lost to a dysfunctional Atlanta Hawks club, to the NBA Finals just to stand around and watch like they’re a bunch of Michael Porter, Jrs?
If you think so, then you don’t know the Heat or Heat culture.
It’s that ability to change, overcome, and adapt that have made this non-marquee match-up so fun to watch when everyone wanted a Los Angeles Lakers-Boston Celtics mashup to see which club would get to 18 first.
Competition from two homegrown teams – again – is more exciting than a scripted series featuring All-Star characters.
Enjoy the ride.
Like Michelob Ultra and Jimmy Butler say: It’s only worth it if you enjoy it.
Tracy Graven is the Senior NBA Analyst for BackSportsPage.com.
He has written the NBA, done NBA Radio, and appeared as a guest for the last 21+ years for HoopsWorld, Swish Magazine, HoopsHype, the Coach Scott Fields Show, NBARadioShow.com, and is also tackling the NFL, NCAA, and will be pinch-hitting on some Major League Baseball coverage for BackSportsPage.
He’s spent 21 years in locker rooms in Orlando, Boise (CBA, G League), San Antonio, Phoenix, Denver, Oklahoma City, and Atlanta.
A corporate trainer by day, he currently resides in SEC Country near Knoxville, Tennessee.
Reach him on Twitter at @RealTMoneyMedia