Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone has viewed a lot of top-notch performances from the club’s star tandem of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.
So he didn’t have any trouble assessing their efforts in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
“By far their greatest performance as a duo in their seven years together,” Malone said.
Jokic produced a historic stat line of 32 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists, and Murray also had a triple-double as Denver notched a 109-94 victory over the host Miami Heat on Wednesday night to take a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals.
Jokic became the first player ever to log at least 30 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in an NBA Finals game. He made 12 of 21 shots and blocked two shots as Denver bounced back from a Game 2 home loss.
Murray scored a game-high 34 points to go with 10 rebounds and 10 assists for the Nuggets, who controlled the contest. And as Malone correctly pointed out, it is the first time two players on the same team have scored 30 points during a triple-double in NBA history.
“Regarding Nikola, nothing he does surprises me, ever,” Malone said. “The guy has shown over and over again that he’s built for these moments. He thrives on these moments, the biggest stage, and he did that again tonight. …
“Jamal is a guy that thrives, lives and excels in the moment. Never afraid of it and you can’t say that for a lot of players. … Jamal missed our last two postseasons (with a knee injury). He’s been dying to get back to this setting and just go out there and put on the performance that he’s putting on.”
Jimmy Butler scored 28 points and Bam Adebayo added 22 points and 17 rebounds for the Heat, who trailed by as many as 21 points.
“We didn’t play our best tonight,” Butler said. “We got to come out with more energy and effort.”
Game 4 is Friday night at Miami.
The Nuggets are two victories away from their first NBA title after the stellar showings by their star tandem.
“Running out of things to say,” Murray said of Jokic. “He makes the game look easy.”
Christian Braun scored 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting off the bench, and Aaron Gordon had 11 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for Denver.
The Nuggets used Jokic’s 10th triple-double of the postseason to regain home-court advantage. Jokic has three of the five 30-20-10 performances in NBA postseason history. The others came from Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Jokic, as is his custom, downplayed his memorable performance.
“I’m just glad we won the game,” the two-time league MVP said. “It was a big one for us just because they won in our arena. We just didn’t want to go down 2-1.”
Denver shot 51.2 percent from the field but was just 5 of 18 (27.8 percent) from 3-point range. The Nuggets had a 58-33 rebounding advantage and a 60-34 edge in points in the paint.
“They just pummeled us in the paint,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They didn’t even have to shoot threes … we didn’t offer much resistance.”
Miami made 37 percent of its field-goal attempts and was 11 of 35 (31.4 percent) from behind the arc. Caleb Martin added 10 points off the bench for the Heat.
After leading by five at halftime, the Nuggets scored the first six points of the second half on a Jokic hoop and back-to-back baskets by Gordon to take a 59-48 lead.
Miami was later within seven before Denver began pulling away with a 21-9 surge. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made a jumper to give Denver a 78-62 edge, and Braun capped the run with a layup and a ferocious slam as the lead reached 82-63 with 50.2 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Heat scored the final five points to trail 82-68 entering the final stanza, and Adebayo sank two free throws to cut the deficit to 12 in the opening minute of the final quarter.
However, Murray hit a jumper and Jokic followed with the next four points to start an 11-2 run. Braun converted a three-point play with 8:45 left and made a floater 17 seconds later to push the Denver lead to 93-72 with 8:28 to play.
Murray’s jumper made it 101-84 with three minutes left. Miami later narrowed the gap to nine before the Nuggets closed it out.
Denver held a 53-48 advantage at the break. Murray had 20 points to lead the way.