Sometimes, the way a playoff series looks on paper can be misleading. A prime example is the 2012 NBA Finals when the Miami Heat defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games. But that series’ 4-1 split doesn’t tell the whole story. Despite falling in five — a relatively short series, all things considered — the lone game that one might be able to call uncompetitive was Game 5, which the Heat won 121-105 to close it out. Even Game 1, an 11-point victory that served as the Thunder’s lone win of the series, was closer than the final score indicates. Every single game was competitive. The Heat were the better team, but had the ball bounced differently on a few possessions, the Thunder could’ve won in five games just as easily.
That won’t be the story of the 2023 NBA Finals should the Denver Nuggets take Game 5 on Monday to win the franchise’s first championship in its 47-year history. Despite owning a 3-1 series lead, the Heat’s lone win thus far came by just three points, 111-108 in Game 2. The Nuggets have commanded just about every other game; each win has come by double-digits, including their 108-95 win in Game 4. Miami is left searching, while Denver’s search for its first title is nearly complete.
Aaron Gordon scored 27 points on 11-of-15 shooting to lead all scorers and added seven rebounds and six assists to round out his best performance of the Finals so far. Nikola Jokic added 23 and 12. Bruce Brown rounded out the Nuggets’ main trio on Friday, scoring 21 points on eight-of-11 shooting. He stepped up while Jamal Murray struggled; Murray shot 29.7 percent from the field and finished with just 15 points, though his 12 assists made up for his meager scoring effort. Those dimes helped him nab a fourth-straight double-digit assist game.
Jimmy Butler scored 25 points for Miami, while Bam Adebayo (20 points and 11 rebounds) and Kyle Lowry (13 points) attempted to aid the Heat’s relatively paltry offensive outing to no avail. They shot just eight-for-25 from three in Game 4 and had 14 turnovers, a far cry from Denver’s six.
At least a 3-1 hole is somewhat familiar for Miami. The Heat have been in one in each of their last three Finals appearances. In 2014, they fell to the San Antonio Spurs in five games, and in 2020, the Los Angeles Lakers closed out the Finals in six — not a great omen if you’re the 2023 Heat, I suppose. But crazier things have happened. Just look at this year’s Eastern Conference Finals: The Boston Celtics climbed out of a 3-0 hole to force a Game 7. Sure, they stunk up the joint in that final game, but the game happened. Maybe the Heat can be the ones to come close to making history this time around.
That said, teams that take a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals have won 35 out of the last 36 times. If Monday night’s Game 5 ends with Nikola Jokic and co. hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy above their heads in championship glee, I’m not sure anyone will be too surprised.