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Denver Nuggets show they’re championship bound with Game 4 NBA Finals win over Miami

It appeared the Denver Nuggets faced an injury scare. The moment just exposed Nikola Jokic’s durability.

It appeared the Nuggets faced adversity when Jokic fell into foul trouble at a critical time. The moment just highlighted the Nuggets’ resiliency.

It appeared the Nuggets faced a Miami Heat team that could tilt the outcome in their favor through sheer will. The moment just revealed the Nuggets’ supremacy.

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Denver walked off Miami’s home floor with a 108-95 victory on Friday in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, an outcome that silenced a previously loud crowd, an outcome that ensured a 3-1 series lead and an outcome that foreshadows their first NBA championship in franchise history.

The Nuggets surely aren’t thinking that way. They’ll stay focused so that they can actually hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy following Game 5 on Monday in Denver in front of their supportive fans (8:30 pm ET, ABC). The Heat surely aren’t thinking that way, either. Though only one out of 36 teams have ever overcome a 3-1 series deficit in the NBA Finals, the Heat themselves are only one of two eighth seeds in league history ever to advance to this stage.

As the Nuggets showed in Game 4, however, they have too much talent, depth and chemistry for the Heat to match. With exception to Denver’s Game 2 letdown, the Nuggets have demonstrated the same theme in their other three wins. Denver illustrated that point even stronger in Game 4.

The Nuggets relied on Jokic’s usual brilliance (23 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, three steals). They benefitted from Jamal Murray’s balanced scoring (15 points) and playmaking (12 assists). Yet, Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon (27 points, seven rebounds, six assists) and reserve guard Bruce Brown (21 points, four boards) represented what has made Denver’s offensive identity so distinguishable. The Nuggets have a handful of role players that know how to produce within the margins and make opponents pay for rightfully focusing more on Jokic and Murray.

The Heat leaned on Jimmy Butler’s aggressiveness (25 points on 9-for-17 shooting, seven assists). They enjoyed Bam Adebayo’s expanded scoring role (20 points) efficiency (8-for-19 shooting) and hustle plays (11 rebounds). Yet, Miami’s star power and competitiveness could not camouflage an ugly reality. The Heat have lacked consistent shooting. Max Strus (0 points on 0-for-4), Gabe Vincent (two points on 1-for-6 clip; 0-for-4 from 3) and Caleb Martin (11 points on 5-for-12) went ice cold. Though the Heat’s offense does not just rest on 3-point shooting, it’s not a coincidence that all three of Miami’s losses coincided with poor outside shooting.

It initially appeared the Heat could take advantage of a vulnerable Nuggets team.

Jokic twisted his right ankle after landing on Strus’ right foot midway through the first quarter. That must have heightened Denver’s concerns. After all, the Phoenix Suns swept the Nuggets in the second round in 2021 a month after Murray tore his ACL in his left knee. The Golden State Warriors dispatched the Nuggets in a five-game first-round matchup in 2022 while Murray (left knee) and Michael Porter Jr. (back) nursed serious ailments. And now the Nuggets’ two-time MVP experienced his own injury scare?

After going to the Nuggets’ locker room and receiving treatment on the bench before the second quarter, however, Jokic then played the rest of the game without any issues. He initially settled for 3s, but he made them. He then diversified his game inside, stayed aggressive and didn’t show any signs of discomfort.

The Heat then tried taking Jokic out of the game in another way. Officials called Jokic for his fifth foul after Adebayo clearly flopped. With the Nuggets holding a 86-76 lead with 9:24 left, Denver coach Michael Malone took Jokic out in hopes to conserve him for crunch time. Nonetheless, the move left the Nuggets vulnerable. The Heat surged on an 7-0 run. The Nuggets quickly countered, though, with Gordon’s interior presence, Brown’s slashing and Murray’s shotmaking. Once Jokic checked in with 4:09 remaining, the Nuggets held a 96-87 cushion. The Heat only made up ground during Jokic’s absence by one point.

Miami deserves credit for its fight. It explains its trajectory. The Heat advanced here, though, partly because their opponents hardly matched the Nuggets’ caliber both in depth and chemistry. The Heat beat a top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks team without Giannis Antetokounmpo for 2 ½ games due to a back injury. The Heat eliminated a New York Knicks team that lacked the needed scrappiness and resiliency. The Heat survived a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals against a Boston Celtics team that either showed complacency in their losses or dominance in their wins.

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The Nuggets don’t have any such weaknesses. The Nuggets breezed past a Minnesota Timberwolves team that only had Anthony Edwards as a consistent contributor. The Nuggets dispatched a Phoenix Suns team in six games that featured two highly efficient scorers (Kevin Durant, Devin Booker) that could not make up for an injured point guard (Chris Paul) and no supporting cast. The Nuggets swept a Los Angeles Lakers team that featured an aggressive and exhausted LeBron James and Anthony Davis along with a mixed supporting cast. All of those opponents seemed overwhelmed with Jokic’s brilliance, Murray’s growth and the supporting cast’s reliability.

And now Denver appears ready to eliminate an eighth-seeded Miami team that has maxed out on its potential. It took patience for this Nuggets team to become fully healthy and to maximize their chemistry. After surviving the varying turbulence in Game 4, however, Denver appears ready to make one final push before hoisting its first NBA championship trophy.

Follow NBA insider Mark Medina on Twitter and on Instagram.

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