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NBA Finals Game 3 Running Diary: Nuggets stars make history in win over Heat

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It’s been a wild day in the NBA!

We’re ending it with Game 3 of the NBA Finals series between the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat.

You can find all our previous Finals coverage here.

Tonight is the (cliche incoming) pivotal Game 3. The winner of Game 3 when the series is tied 1-1 goes on to win 80 percent of the time.

In the pregame, Nuggets coach Mike Malone stresses communicating on both ends of the floor. That was a big reason why Miami beat Denver in Game 2. The Nuggets looked disjointed for the first time all playoffs. Malone knows Denver needs to fix that.

Miami got hot from 3 on Sunday night, making 17 shots from deep. The Heat continue to manage wins despite Jimmy Butler’s play slipping more and more each game. Butler was more aggressive in Game 2, though, finishing with 19 drives — 11 more than he had in Game 1.

Let’s go!

First Quarter

12:00: The Heat crowd is hype right from the tip. That’s a good sign for them.

10:49: Heat big Kevin Love drains a 3 over Nuggets superstar Nikola Jokic. Anything Miami gets from Love is a plus. Love is shooting 50 percent on his last 16 three-point attempts.

9:20: Butler hits a shot right at the basket to put Miami up 9-4. The Heat, like in Game 2, are making a concerted effort to get to the hole.

8:16: Nuggets guard Jamal Murray has hit three of Denver’s first four shots. He struggled from the field in Game 2 and looks to be setting the tone early tonight.

6:28: Butler misses on a drive right at Jokic. Miami right now is playing like Boston: everything is at the basket or a 3.

6:24: Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is called for a foul on a charge. That’s the second foul on KCP — Denver’s best perimeter defender. Caldwell-Pope goes to the bench. Keep that in mind.

4:13: Jokic sprints up the floor and plants himself into the paint with Love on him. Guess what happens? Nuggets up two. Looks like Denver weathered the early storm.

3:59: Cody Zeller checks in for Miami. The Heat in the Finals are a minus-19 in the 16 minutes Zeller has played so far.

2:00: Jokic hits another short jumper to put Denver up 22-18. Jokic and Murray are 9/15 so far tonight and have scored 18 of the Nuggets’ 22 points. I like the stars taking over in games like this. 

:03.1: Heat guard Kyle Lowry hits a circus shot to tie the game at 24. Good game so far. You can see the adjustments made on both sides: Miami continues to force its way to the basket. Butler is much more aggressive tonight, with 10 early points. He scored 11 points combined in the two first quarters in Denver. Denver has made a small adjustment in its screening to free up Murray. The Nuggets are also doing most of their damage in the paint, shooting 10-12 in that area.

Second quarter

11:13: Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon picks up his second foul. Denver’s two best individual defenders both have two fouls.

10:23: Heat wing Caleb Martin misses a jumper to start 0-2. Martin has cooled off considerably since his strong East Finals performance. He’s shooting 2-12 so far in the Finals.

9:00: Heat big Bam Adebayo makes what feels like his 100th jumper this series from the foul line to tie the game at 29. Nuggets call a TO. Adebayo is already close to a double double with 9 points and 7 rebounds. As of now, Bam is the Finals MVP if Miami wins the series.

8:41: Nuggets guard Christian Braun gets a dunk off a Jokic feed to put Denver up 2. Jokic has already equaled his assist total from Game 2 with 4. Denver is 0-9 in its last nine games that Jokic has 4 assists or less.

7:27: The last minute-plus has been the Caleb Martin show. He’s made two 3s and a short bucket. He’s back

5:36: Murray hits a straightaway 3 off a feed from Jokic to put Denver up 41-37. The Nuggets are on an 8-0 run in the last 1:25 of game time. 

4:45: Butler drains a foul line jumper. He’s got 12 points but he’s taken 13 shots. Nuggets up 2.

3:19: Adebayo soars in for a tip dunk off a missed Martin layup. Bam’s everywhere tonight.

2:28: Gabe Vincent picks up his third foul 21 seconds after he checks back into the game. Eight of the nine Heat players who’ve seen the court tonight have been called for a foul. Gordon misses both free throws, though.

1:27: Gordon goes coast to coast for a two-hand dunk. Then he draws his third foul on the other end. Gordon’s been the best defensive matchup against Butler so far this series. Butler, 6-16 so far tonight, should look for his own shot even more with Gordon out. 

:17.0: Jokic draws a foul in a scrum under the basket off a missed Michael Porter Jr. 3. Porter Jr. has been awful tonight. His bad defense from Game 2 has carried over into this game, and he can’t make a shot. Porter Jr. is 25-75 from the field since shooting 6-10 in Game 3 of the West Semis.

0:00: Lowry misses the 3 to end the half. Denver leads 53-48. The stars are stealing the show on both sides. Jokic and Murray have combined for 34 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists. Butler and Adebayo have totaled 27 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks. The game is gonna come down to those four.

Third quarter

9:47: Gordon gets his second bucket of the quarter to give Denver its largest lead of a game at 59-48. Miami needs to respond.

9:12: Butler hits his second shot in 20 seconds to cut into the Denver lead. I know his ankle has to still be bothering him, but Butler is giving everything he has tonight.

7:40: Butler takes his eye off the ball and allows Murray to follow a miss with a bucket. Nuggets back up 11. 

6:54: Jokic gets Vincent on a mismatch and scores on a short shot. Jokic already has four made buckets this quarter. The cream is starting to rise to the top.

4:18: Jokic and Butler trade 3s. Denver is up by 13 for the second time this quarter. The four stars (Jokic, Murray, Butler, Adebayo) have scored or assisted on all but one made basket so far this quarter.

3:24: Butler scores again on a short baseline jumper to cut the Nuggets lead to 12. Heat has to string together some stops now.

2:00: Caldwell-Pope hits a long pullup 2 to give Denver a 16-point lead. Heat takes a TO. Miami needs someone other than Jimmy and Bam to step up now. It looked like Martin would fill that role but he just had that one quick outburst. Miami’s “other guys” are shooting 8-29 tonight.

1:47: Butler splits a pair of free throws. Denver’s lead is 15. It feels like the Nuggets remembered they’re much bigger than the Heat. Denver so far tonight has outrebounded Miami 43-24.

:50.2: Braun gets a steal and floats in for a one-handed dunk. Denver’s lead has ballooned to 19. This one might be over.

:01.4: Butler hits another short jumper from the right baseline to cut the Nuggets lead to 14 at the end of three. Miami has to make a push now to give itself a chance in this one.

Fourth quarter

12:00: The fourth quarter has been great for Miami so far in this series. The Heat in the first two games outscored the Nuggets by 21 in the fourth quarter.

10:45: Jokic misses a running jumper after the Miami zone gives Denver some trouble. The Heat have been successful with that zone all year. 

9:44: Jokic pulls down his 20th rebound to go with 28 points and 9 assists. Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Jokic are the only players in history with 30/20/10 triple doubles in the playoffs. Jokic has done it twice.

8:29: Christian Braun, a rookie, goes right at Butler and hits a short shot to put Denver up 21. Braun has 15 points tonight, easily a playoff high. Braun before tonight had 15 points combined in his last seven playoff appearances. Braun has the…look of a guy who will be very popular after this game.

6:36: Malone calls a timeout after Bam hits a short push shot to cut the Nuggets lead to 16. Bam and JImmy are still the only two Heat players in double figures. Miami right now is 9-27 from 3. Denver is 5-18 from deep. We can see who relies more on that shot going in.

5:48: Jokic gets his 10th assist on a Murray 17-foot jumper. The Joker has the first 30/20/10 triple double in Finals history. He’s got three of the five 30/20/10 triple doubles in playoff history, including two this postseason. Jokic will for sure vault into the top 20 players ever with a Finals win. He’ll be in the 30s if Miami wins. 

1:32: Duncan Robinson hits a 3 for the Heat to cut the Nuggets lead to 10. Miami really is like a boxer with a glass chin.

1:22: Robinson hits another 3 to cut the Denver lead to 9. No way Miami comes back, right? Right?

1:06: Jokic pulls down another rebound as most of the Heat fans head out. Except DJ Khaled, who for some reason is allowed to continue putting out 22-song albums with two good songs on them. 

:05.0: Murray gets his 10th rebound to get to 34/10/10 as Denver closes out Miami. That’s gotta be the first time teammates have had 30-point triple doubles in the Finals, right? It’s only the second time teammates have had any type of triple double in a Finals game.

It’s actually the first time in League history teammates have finished with 30-point triple doubles in the same game.

It’s Denver with the advantage now going into Game 4. 

The Nuggets tonight bullied Miami, beating the Heat 58-33 on the glass. Denver remembered it’s the bigger team and it showed. The Nuggets shot 51.2 percent from the field despite shooting 27.8 percent from 3. 

Malone had a quick hook for Porter Jr. Porter Jr. played a 2023 playoff-low 21 minutes. Most of his minutes went to Braun and Bruce Brown, who produced at a high level in different ways.

Miami shot just 11-35 from 3 and 37 percent overall. That more so resembles the Heat team from the regular season that shot 34.4 percent from 3 and not the playoff team that so far has been the best 3-point shooting team in the playoffs.

Once again, it’s on Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to find a way to bring his team back even in the series. It feels like it all comes down to if Miami can make 3s.

If the Heat can’t find its range from 3, Denver will walk to the title.

And Jokic will cement himself among the greatest to ever do it.

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