24 thoughts on Game 4 of 2023 NBA Finals

Bruce Brown was just one of several supporting Nuggets players to show up big-time in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

The Denver Nuggets are one win away from their first NBA championship after winning Game 4 in Miami, 108-95, to take a 3-1 lead as the series shifts back to Denver for Game 5 on Monday. Here are 24 thoughts from Friday’s game.

1 – Aaron Gordon could not have picked a better time to have the best playoff game of his career. His 27 points are a playoff career high, topping his previous mark of 25 from the 2019 first round during his time with the Magic. Gordon was absolutely brilliant in the second quarter as he scored 15 points in the period to keep the offense rolling while Nikola Jokic was out, then didn’t stop once Jokic came back in.

Gordon had his 3-point shot falling, he made timely cuts to the basket for alley-oops and he abused mismatches against smaller defenders like we saw in Game 1. Take a look at this play, where he tells his teammates to clear out as he isolates on Gabe Vincent, drives for the basket and-one and completes the 3-point play.

Or this baseline cut for the long alley-oop pass from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

2 – While Bruce Brown didn’t set a playoff career high in scoring, he was magnificent in his 30 minutes off the Nuggets bench, finishing with 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting and 3-for-5 from 3-point range while also adding four boards, two assists, a steal and a block.

After the Heat had cut the Denver lead to eight with just under three minutes to play, the Nuggets’ response didn’t come from Jamal Murray or Nikola Jokic or even the on-fire Aaron Gordo. It was Brown that came off a Jokic screen, found an opening in the Heat defense and rose up for the jumper and the foul to complete a three-point play to push the lead to 11.

When Bam Adebayo answered with a quick two to cut the lead to nine, Brown came right back down, saw an opening and attacked the basket, finishing a beautiful reverse layup around Adebayo to push the lead back to double digits with 2:04 to play.

3 – Much of Denver’s playoff run has been defined by the brilliance of its star duo of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. While both were good tonight, it was the contributions from up and down the roster that made the difference. Gordon. Brown. Porter Jr. Jeff Green hit one shot, but it was a huge corner 3 in the fourth quarter. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added steals and a dagger 3 of his own.

4 – Scary moment for the Nuggets when Jokic twisted his ankle midway through the first quarter when he came down on Max Strus’ foot while going for an offensive rebound. While he grimaced and limped a bit, Jokic closed out the quarter and was able to play through the discomfort.

At the quarter break, Jokic went to the locker room to have his ankle re-taped. He returned the Nuggets bench but sat the first 4:10 of the period to get his normal rest. The Nuggets started the second quarter with Jokic out down by one point (21-20) and were tied (30-30) when he returned following this sequence from Miami.

5 – The Nuggets won the non-Jokic minutes by four points in Game 4, including a pair of extended runs with the two-time Kia MVP on the bench. The first was his rest to open the second quarter after having his ankle wrapped. But later in the game, Jokic picked up two fouls in the span of 17 seconds to give him five for the game with 9:24 left to play.

Malone subbed Jokic out and the Nuggets maintained their advantage. He exited with 9:24 left to play with the Nuggets up by 10 and the Heat with the ball. He returned with 4:09 to play with the Nuggets up nine and with the ball.

6 – Denver wins its fifth straight road game of this playoff run, while Miami has now lost four in a row at home. They’ll have to win in Denver again on Monday if they want to host another game at Kaseya Center this season.

7 – As much as we talk about the Nuggets’ offense, we have to give a shout out to the defensive effort they have put in during this series. Denver held the Heat to 95 points in Game 4, the third time in the series holding Miami to 95 points or less. All three of those games were Denver wins.

8 – Miami entered Game 4 with a 5-2 record in this year’s playoffs following a loss, winning games by an average of 7.2 points. The only team that had beaten the Heat following a loss was Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals as they rallied from a 3-0 deficit to force Game 7. That record now stands at 5-3 after the Nuggets swept the two games in South Beach.

9 – A game can’t go by in these Finals without some history being made. In Game 4 we saw Jamal Murray become the first player to ever have 10 or more assists in their first four career games in the NBA Finals. Murray finished the game with 12 dimes and zero turnovers.

That last number is impressive as it follows his seven turnovers in Game 3 when Miami began aggressively blitzing him in the two-man action with Jokic. Less than 48 hours later, Murray was ready for whatever the Heat threw at him and eliminated his mistakes.

10 – Jokic added to his historical run in this postseason as he became the first player ever to have at least 250 rebounds and 150 assists in a single playoff run.

11 – Miami had more turnovers in the first 10 minutes of Game 4 (five) than they did in all of Game 3 (four). The Heat finished with 14 turnovers for the game, leading to 17 Denver points. Meanwhile, the Nuggets took extreme care of the ball with only six turnovers for eight Heat points.

12 – This game featured the lowest-scoring quarter of this series as Miami won the opening 12 minutes 21-20 after Jimmy Butler’s buzzer-beating corner 3-pointer. That was followed by the highest-scoring quarter of the series as Denver won the second quarter 35-30 to take four-point lead into halftime.

Before hitting the 3 on the sideline out of bounds, Butler wanted a shooting foul that was called as a side-to-side swipe rather than a shot attempt. In the end, it turned out to be a good thing for the Heat as a possible two free throws turned into three points.

13 – Miami stayed within striking distance of the Nuggets in the opening half by closing out both the first and second quarters strong. The Heat closed the first quarter on 10-2 run in final two minutes to turn a seven-point deficit to one-point lead. Then, the Heat closed the second quarter with a 6-1 run in final 90 seconds to cut a nine-point deficit to four at the break.

14 – Miami got great minutes from Kyle Lowry in Game 4. He scored 13 points in 13 minutes off the bench in the first half and finished with 13 points, three rebounds and seven assists in a personal 2023 playoff-high 33 minutes. Not only did he hit shots and make plays for others, he also brought out the veteran bag of tricks. Lowry executed the pull-the-chair move on a posting Aaron Gordon to cause a travel, and he hooked the defender and cut to draw contact and earn a trip to the free throw line with his team in the bonus.

15 – One of Lowry’s dimes was this transition drive into the lane, with a drop off pass to a trailing Adebayo, a Lowry seal of the defenders to led Bam rise up over everyone for the Game 4 edition of the Bam Slam.

Here’s the video:

Here’s the poster:

16 – Remember earlier in these playoffs when teams were backing off Aaron Gordon on the perimeter and practically begging him to shoot 3-pointers? Well, after shooting 4-for-12 from 3 against the Wolves in the first round, 6-for-14 against the Suns in the West semifinals, and 3-for-11 against the Lakers in the West Finals, Gordon has now shot 5-for-7 from beyond the arc in the Finals, including a 3-for-4 performance in Game 4. Here’s his final 3 of the game, an open look from the corner to close the third quarter and put the Nuggets up by 13.

17 – Nikola Jokic may not be the best rim protector in the league, but people have to stop talking about him as a defensive liability. He finished Game 4 with three steals and three blocks, but had even more deflections with both his hands (legal) and his feet (a violation). He broke up four passes tonight with his feet, which does give possession to Miami, but it disrupts the action they were trying to get into for that possession.

18 – Game 1 of this series gave us a rare Finals “wedgie” and Game 4 gave us an even more rare occurrence – the crooked rim. After missing a dunk in the third quarter, Bam Adebayo held onto the rim and was called for basket interference. When he let go of the rim, he left it slightly askew, which ended up causing a seven-minute delay in the action. Jokic tried to solve the issue quickly by grabbing and holding the other end of the rim to put in back in place. But after the ladder was brought out, the basket adjusted and the level rim was confirmed, play finally resumed.

19 – After the Heat closed out the first two quarters of the game, the third quarters was Denver’s turn to have a strong finish. The Nuggets led by 13 points with 5:08 to play in the third, the Heat then cut the lead to six points with 2:42 to play. Denver then closed out the third on a 12-5 run to take a 13-point lead into the fourth quarter. That run was capped by Gordon’s corner 3 mentioned above, which brought out this Jokic reaction.

20 – Of course, the Heat weren’t going to go out quietly. The run was coming, and similar to Game 2, it came at the start of the fourth quarter with a Duncan Robinson 3-pointer. In Game 2, the Heat opened the fourth quarter on a 15-2 run to take the lead and never relinquish it. In Game 4, they opened the fourth with an 8-0 run to cut Denver’s lead to five…

… until a huge 3-pointer from Jamal Murray stopped the bleeding for the Nuggets. Murray finished with just 15 points in Game 4 – his lowest-scoring game of the series and second-lowest of the entire playoffs – but hit so many timely buckets, especially in the non-Jokic minutes that helped the Nuggets maintain control of the game.

21 – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope gets the Mike Breen BANG call as he delivers the dagger with 1:49 left to play. After Jokic blocked Adebayo’s running layup attempt, the Nuggets burst into transition and Gordon found Caldwell-Pope wide open at the 3-point line on the right wing. KCP teed up the shot and let it fly, giving the Nuggets a 14-point lead (their biggest of the game at that point) and forced a Miami timeout.

22 – Adebayo posted his third 20-10 game of the Finals as he finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, one steal and seven turnovers. Oh, and we can’t forget about his one block, because it was spectacular, chasing down a Jamal Murray layup attempt with a two-handed pin against the backboard.

23 – Of course, it wouldn’t be a Finals game if the stars were out to catch the action. But will it be the final time in Miami for the season? The Heat have thrived with their backs against the wall and will have to do again to bring this series back to South Beach.

24 – One win away. The Nuggets are just one win away from winning their first NBA championship and have three chances to get it. The first comes on Monday night in front of their home crowd at Ball Arena.

We close with the history of this situation. Teams that have held a 3-1 lead in the Finals have gone on to win the championship 35 times in 36 chances. The only exception to the rule is the 2016 Golden State Warriors. Will Nuggets improve that record to 36-1, or will the Heat extend their season and try to make a historic comeback?

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