Nuggets beat Heat in Miami, one win from Denver's first NBA title

AP photo by Wilfredo Lee / Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon dunks during Game 4 of the NBA Finals against the host Miami Heat on Friday night.
AP photo by Wilfredo Lee / Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon dunks during Game 4 of the NBA Finals against the host Miami Heat on Friday night.

MIAMI — The mission for the Denver Nuggets was clear: Visit the Sunshine State for a few days, get a couple of wins and head back home to the Mile High City with a chance to finally lock up their first NBA championship.

It's officially there for the taking.

The 47-year wait for Denver might be over as soon as Monday, with Nikola Jokic and his teammates now just one win away from getting the title the 28-year-old two-time league MVP has wanted for so long. Aaron Gordon scored 27 points, Jokic added 23, and the Nuggets beat the Miami Heat 108-95 on Friday night to take a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals.

"We haven't done a damn thing yet," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. "We have to win another game to be world champions."

Bruce Brown scored 21 off the bench for the Nuggets, who won their fifth straight road game to grab complete command of the best-of-seven series. They'll have three chances to win one game for a title, two of those in Denver, the first in what's sure to be a raucous atmosphere for Game 5.

Denver's Jamal Murray had 15 points and 12 assists, his fourth consecutive double-digit game for helpers.

"Today was a team effort." Murray said. "I can't even name one person. Everybody locked in. We've got one more to go."

Jimmy Butler scored 25 points for Miami, which has now fallen into 3-1 holes in each of its past three appearances in the NBA Finals, with this one joining 2014 and 2020. Bam Adebayo had 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Heat, while Kyle Lowry added 13 points.

The Heat walked off the floor in silence, fully aware of how much trouble they're in now.

"Now we're in a must-win situation every single game — which we're capable of," Butler said. "It's not impossible."

The Nuggets were overwhelming favorites to start the series, for obvious reasons. Denver was the Western Conference's No. 1 seed; Miami was the Eastern Conference's No. 8 seed and had to come through the play-in tournament. The Nuggets had won nine of the past 10 regular-season meetings between the teams, and their run of success over the Heat has continued through four games of the title round.

"Our guys are locked in, man," Malone said. "We're focused."

Denver led by 13 points going into the fourth quarter Friday, and Miami came out for the final period with appropriate desperation. The Heat scored the first eight points, Jokic committed his fifth foul and had to go to the bench with 9:24 left, and the visitors' lead was down to 86-81 when Butler converted a three-point play with 8:42 remaining.

But the Nuggets — who fell apart in the fourth quarter of Game 2 in Denver last Sunday for their lone loss of the series, 111-108 — didn't fold, even with their top star still out. Murray made a 3-pointer to stop Miami's 8-0 spurt, and Jeff Green made a huge corner 3 from near the Heat bench for a 94-85 edge with 6:21 left.

"We have guys that can step up, night in and night out," Gordon said.

Jokic checked out with Denver up 10. He came back with the Nuggets up nine. Miami didn't take advantage of that chance and now finds itself on the wrong end of history. A team that had to scramble just to make the playoffs now needs to pull off the ultimate scramble to win a championship.

"This is what this year's been all about for this group, so definitely not going to hang our heads or quit," Heat guard Duncan Robinson said. "That's not an option. It's not going to happen. So we'll band together and get on this flight tomorrow and find a way to figure it out."

Teams that take a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals have won 35 out of 36 previous times, and the Heat will have to buck that trend to keep Denver from winning its title.

"We have an incredibly competitive group," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We've done everything the hard way, and that's the way it's going to have to be done right now — again. And all we're going to focus on is getting this thing back to the 305. Get this thing back to Miami, and things can shift very quickly."

Miami started the playoffs 6-0 at home. The Heat are 0-4 on their home floor since, including Wednesday night's 109-94 loss to the Nuggets, when Jokic and Murray both had 30-point triple-doubles.

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