After building their largest lead of the night to that point midway through the third quarter of Game 3 of the NBA Finals, the Denver Nuggets put on a rebounding clinic.
Aaron Gordon grabbed one on the defensive end after Miami’s Max Strus missed, then Michael Porter Jr. came down with the ball off Jamal Murray’s failed 3-point attempt. Porter got his own rebound off a block — and when he missed, Gordon put it back up and in, and the score wasn’t close the rest of the way.
It was their own personal game of shoot until you make it — and it spoke to the Nuggets being too big, too strong and too tough inside for the Heat in their 109-94 victory Wednesday night that put them up 2-1 in the series and one step closer to the first championship in franchise history.
“It’s a collective effort,” said Kitchener native Murray, who had 10 rebounds as part of his triple-double. “Sometimes it’s just an effort play. Sometimes the ball just comes to you. Sometimes somebody else does the dirty work and boxes the big guy out. I think it’s everybody chipping in to get those rebounds.”
Denver outrebounded Miami 65-41, and points in the paint were a lopsided 60-34. Nikola Jokic had 18 rebounds on the defensive end alone and 21 total as part of his triple-double.
“When we rebound like that, there’s usually a direct correlation to a `W,”’ said Gordon, who had 10 rebounds. “We’ve got to keep eating the glass, continue to rebound on both sides of the floor.”
While Jokic became the first player with 30 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in a game in the finals, he had plenty of help on the glass. The Heat had few answers inside for Gordon, Murray and Porter, who with his seven.
“They just pummeled us in the paint,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said, lamenting his team losing too many 50-50 plays. “They didn’t really have to shoot 3s. They had, whatever, 60 in the paint. They probably shot over 65% in the paint at the rim there. Wasn’t a need to space the floor.”
With Denver looking for complementary help for Jokic and Murray — who had 14 points midway through the second quarter and finished with a game-high 34 that were the most by a Canada-born player in a finals game — Gordon stepped to the forefront. The 27-year-old forward had 11 points in 34 minutes on the court.
Rookie Christian Braun also came up big with 15 points in 19 minutes off the bench. His was just one of several crucial secondary performances.
“This is by far our best game of the series, the most compete game of the series, and it’s not because of the triple-doubles or all the individual stats,” coach Michael Malone said, citing the 60 points in the paint and outrebounding Miami by a significant amount in a game in the finals. “That really helped us out tonight: the defending and rebounding at a high level.”
Malone saw it as the Nuggets responding teamwide to their Game 2 performance, when they blew a 15-point lead and lost. Now he hopes it carries into Game 4.
“I loved our energy, our effort, our urgency, our discipline,” Malone said. “I felt we were where we needed to be tonight, and we’ll have to be even better come Friday evening.”