2023 NBA Finals

24 thoughts on Game 3 of 2023 NBA Finals

Instant observations and the best of NBA Twitter from Game 3 of the 2023 NBA Finals as it happened in Miami on Wednesday.

Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray made history Wednesday night — and have the Nuggets 2 wins away from making some real history as well.

The Miami Heat stole home-court advantage from the Denver Nuggets in Game 2, and 72 hours later the Nuggets stole it right back with a 109-94 win at Kaseya Center in Miami on Wednesday to take a 2-1 series lead.

1 – There’s no other place we can start than with Nikola Jokic’s historic performance as he becomes the first player to record a 30-20-10 game in NBA Finals history. Jokic finished with 32 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists in 44 minutes on Wednesday night as he dominated every aspect of the game.

There have been only four other 30-20-10 games in NBA Playoffs history, and Jokic has two of those. The other two belong to a couple of guys you may have heard of: Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The company doesn’t get any greater than that.

2 – Jamal Murray wasn’t going to let Jokic have all the 30-point triple-double fun to himself. With just nine seconds remaining in Game 3, Murray grabbed his 10th rebound to give him a final stat line of 34 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

This was Murray’s third straight game with 10 assists as he joined Magic Johnson and Bob Cousy as the only players to put together such a streak in NBA Finals history.

Jokic recorded the 12th 30-point triple-double in Finals history earlier in the fourth quarter, then Murray recorded the 13th on the final play of the game. Jimmy Butler has the previous two 30-point triple-doubles in Finals history, both coming in the bubble in 2020. LeBron James leads all players with five such games, while the others belong to Stephen Curry, Charles Barkley, James Worthy and Jerry West (each with one apiece).

3 – With Murray finishing his triple-double, he and Jokic combined to make more history as the first teammates to ever record 30-point triple-doubles in a game.

Not a Finals game.

Not a playoff game.

Any game in NBA history!

4 – Jokic (44) and Murray (45) both played big minutes to help the Nuggets get this Game 3 win, and there is a quick turnaround with Game 4 on Friday (8:30 ET, ABC) — the only game of the series without two days off between games.

Murray’s 45 minutes were the most he’s logged this postseason — he played 44 minutes in Denver’s Game 1 win. Jokic’s 44 minutes were the second-most he’s played this postseason. He logged 45 minutes in the close out game against the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, but he and his teammates had nine days off after that.

5 – In their Game 2 victory, the Heat shot 16-of-30 on 3-point shots that were either open (closest defender 4-6 feet away) or wide open (closest defender 6+ feet away) as they shot 17-of-35 (48.6%) from 3-point range overall.

In Game 3, the Heat shot 11-of-35 (31.4%) from 3-point range, their fifth-worst shooting performance of the playoffs. While we await the official player tracking data for the open/wide-open numbers, the eye test showed that Denver’s defense on Miami’s shooters was much improved from the first two games of the series.

6 – Here are the Game 3 numbers for Miami’s top 3-point shooters in the playoffs:

  • Max Strus: 1-for-7 FG, 1-for-4 3-pointers
  • Gabe Vincent: 2-for-10 FG, 1-for-6 3-pointers
  • Caleb Martin: 4-for-9 FG, 2-for-5 3-pointers
  • Duncan Robinson: 3-6 FG (all 3-pointers)

7 – Had it not been for the historical brilliance of Jokic and Murray, this would have probably been called the Christian Braun game as the rookie had a two-minute run that turned a 12-point lead into a 19-point lead late in the third quarter.

  • 02:37: C. Braun Cutting Layup (6 PTS) (A. Gordon 5 AST), 76 – 62
  • 01:04: C. Braun Cutting Layup (8 PTS) (N. Jokic 9 AST), 80 – 63
  • 52.0: C. Braun STEAL (1 STL)
  • 50.2: C. Braun Running DUNK (10 PTS), 82 – 63

And he wasn’t finished, adding an and-one layup on a nice cut to the basket when the Heat blitzed Murray beyond the 3-point line, followed by a transition drive and layup through contact against Butler for another and-one that simultaneously quieted the Kaseya Center crowd and blew up Twitter.

To be fair, the side-of-the-backboard shot was his only miss of the night.

8 – The Nuggets dominated the Heat in points in the paint, nearly doubling them up for the game, 60-34.

As Schuhmann indicates, the Heat had plenty of chances to score in the paint … they just weren’t able to convert on them. Denver, meanwhile, thrived close to the basket.

9 – Bam Adebayo finished the game with 22 points, 17 rebounds and three assists in 41 minutes, but posted the lowest plus/minus of any Heat player in the game (-20). Adebayo had a double-double at the half (13 points and 10 rebounds), but could have had more as he missed a number of shots he normally knocks down around the basket (part of what contributed to the points in the paint differential).

10 – Of course, Adebayo did have a few standout plays, none bigger than the “Bam Slam” as called by ABC’s Mike Breen. Not only was this an incredible finish by Adebayo, but just a great play overall by the Heat. Butler had the ball at the top of the key and spotted Martin making a perfect backdoor cut. He delivered the pass and Martin went up for the reverse layup that missed. But, Martin had drawn the defense to him, leaving Adebayo an open lane to crash the glass and punch home the putback dunk over Jokic.

11 – Butler had his best offensive game of the series with a team-high 28 points on 11-for-24 shooting. He constantly attacked the basket, hitting a variety of runners and pull-ups just outside the lane. He also hunted mismatches against smaller defenders (particularly Murray), backed them down in the post and either looked to score over them on pull-ups and fadeaways or find teammates for open looks when the Nuggets sent defensive help.

12 – After being outscored by 21 points combined in the fourth quarters of the first two games of the series, the Nuggets finally won the final 12 minutes, by the smallest of margins: 27-26.

After the game was tied at 24 at the end of the first quarter, the Nuggets won the final three quarters of the game (+5 in the second, +9 in the third and +1 in the fourth).

Of course, the Heat kept fighting, with a pair of 3-pointers by Duncan Robinson cutting the Nuggets lead to single digits with 1:22 remaining. Adebayo missed an open pull-up jumper from 15 feet that would have cut the lead to seven on the following possession, and the Nuggets held on from there.

13 – The Heat employed a new defensive strategy on the Murray/Jokic two-man game, blitzing and trapping Murray on pick-and-rolls and dribble hand-offs. The tactic had mixed results. While it did force Murray into a playoff career-high seven turnovers (he’s had only four career games with seven or more turnovers), the Nuggets were able to take advantage of the overplay on Murray at times and get open looks while the Heat defense was in rotation.

14 – The Nuggets’ starters outscored the Heat starters 85-66 in Game 3. While Adebayo and Butler combined for 50 points, the Heat got just 16 points combined from Stus, Vincent and Love.

Meanwhile, the Nuggets matched the Heat starting five with only Murray and Jokic as the duo combined for 66 points. Denver’s other three starters finished with 19 points — 11 from Aaron Gordon, six from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and just two from Michael Porter Jr, who continues to struggle this series.

Jokic and Murray not only matched the Heat starters in points, they also beat them in rebounds (+6) and assists (+8).

In fact, with a combined 31 rebounds, Jokic and Murray nearly outrebounded the entire Heat team by themselves as Miami finished with 33 total rebounds to Denver’s 58 in Game 3.

15 – Part of what kept the Heat in the game despite their poor overall shooting (37% FG, 31.4% 3P), is the fact that they only committed four turnovers on the game. However, the Nuggets still won the points off turnovers battle 6-4, as Miami was unable to capitalize on Denver’s 13 turnovers.

16 – The Heat hosted their first Finals in Miami game since 2014 as their run to the 2020 Finals occurred in the bubble. The game brought plenty of celebrities to South Beach, but none received a bigger ovation than the man that help lead the Heat to three championships and six Finals appearances: Dwyane Wade.

There’s a reason Miami is known as Wade County.

He’s sitting next to a pretty good point guard as well.

17 – Loved seeing the pregame speech from Nuggets coach Michael Malone as he called out to his veterans to ask them how many seasons they’ve played and how many Finals had they played in. It was a great tactic to reinforce the need to not just enjoy these rare moments, but also seize them.

18 – Martin had his best game of the Finals, finishing with 10 points, three rebounds and three assists in 32 minutes off the bench. After being held to just three points in both Game 1 and Game 2, Martin found his offense with an eight-point burst in less than a minute of game time in the second quarter (8:20 to 7:27), capped off by this acrobatic layup.

Martin had just two points the rest of the game, as a number of Heat role players had quick burst throughout the game but were not able to sustain their production.

19 – Another case in point was Strus, who dished out four assists in the first five minutes of the game, including this cross-court dime to Vincent for his only made 3-pointer of the game.

Strus would add just one more assist the rest of the game, and was not able to get his shot going either, finishing with three points on 1-of-7 shooting on the night.

20 – Murray scored 20 of his game-high 34 points in the first half as he came out super aggressive after being held to just 18 points in all of Game 2. Keep in mind, he didn’t score his first bucket of Game 2 until two minutes into the second quarter. On Wednesday, he was in attack mode from the jump.

21 – Murray and Jokic were determined to take control of the game early, as they took 13 of Denver’s first 16 shots of the game. Jokic finished the first quarter with 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting, while Murray added eight on 4-of-8 shooting. Not to be outdone, Jimmy Butler also came out looking to score as he logged 10 first-quarter points of his own to lead the Heat.

22 – Before Jokic joined a league of his own with his 30-20-10 game, he joined a pair of multi-time NBA champions by posting a 10-10-5 first half. The only other players to have had at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in the first half of a Finals game in the past 25 seasons were Tim Duncan and LeBron James.

It was clear that Jokic was well on his way to his 10th triple-double of this postseason – extending his own single-season record – but he had to make more history before the night was done.

23 – History favors the Nuggets as the series moves forward as the winner of Game 3 of a 1-1 NBA Finals has gone on to win the series 80% of the time (32-8).

24 – With less than 48 hours until Game 4, it’s time for the Heat to put together their best game of the season to send this series back to Denver at 2-2 rather than facing a 3-1 deficit. The Heat have proven to deliver when their backs are against the wall. Can’t wait to see what they have in store on Friday night.