Teams that have taken a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals have gone on to win 35 out of the previous 36 times. In NBA history, only one team has ever won the Finals after going down in such a deficit: the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers led by Lebron James.
Now, what can similarly be said about that Cavaliers team and this Miami Heat team? They both love to defy the odds.
The Miami Heat have surprised almost everyone in its playoff run this year. Beating the No. 1-seeded Bucks in five games and winning a seven-game series against the No. 2-seeded Celtics in Boston, the Heat have demonstrated they are a fierce, competitive and gritty team that will claw their way to victory and shock the world.
So, being down 3-1 in the NBA Finals, can the Heat make a historic comeback like the Cavaliers? As much as I would love to believe the Heat are capable of winning, that Cavaliers team had Lebron James, and the Nuggets have been playing some of the most exceptional basketball I’ve seen all year. So … probably not.
Game 4 on Friday night was yet another example of Denver making the correct adjustments and receiving much-needed offense from their role players — qualities of a true championship team. Struggling with causing turnovers and hitting threes in Game 3, the Nuggets flipped the script around, winning the turnover battle 15 to eight and draining 14 threes on 50% shooting.
Aaron Gordon and Bruce Brown also deserve their rounds of applause. The pair combined for an explosive 48 points in a game where Nikola Jokic fell into foul trouble early in the fourth quarter and Jamal Murray struggled shooting. Gordon led all scorers with 27 points along with seven rebounds, six assists and a wildly impressive plus-minus of +29.
The Heat had no answer for Denver’s adjustments. Even when they were able to slow down Jokic and Murray, the Heat had trouble making threes and taking care of the ball on offense. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo continued to carry the load offensively with at least 20 points each, and while four Heat role players were able to get into double-digit scoring, Miami still lacked a true offensive spark on Friday.
After some speculation earlier in the playoffs, it’s clear now that the Heat could really use Tyler Herro back. Averaging 20 points per game before his injury, Herro would hands down provide the scoring spark that the Heat are missing from players not named Jimmy or Bam. Interestingly enough, however, Herro was initially listed as inactive for Game 5 but received an upgrade to questionable Monday morning and is now expected to suit up for the Heat. If Herro can play like his regular self in Game 5, the Heat may have a hero.
Does Miami have what it takes to save their season? Won’t lie, it looks really bleak for the Heat faithful, but anything is possible with this team, and they’re no strangers to road victories. Here’s what the Heat have to do to have a chance Monday:
Attack the paint early and get Denver into foul trouble
Adebayo finally seemed much more aggressive in the paint on Friday, attacking Jokic more often and drawing contact. While Adebayo could be better at actually making layups or turnaround floaters, he did his job putting Jokic in foul trouble, as Jokic got his fifth foul with nine minutes left in the game. Murray was able to orchestrate a strong offense in Jokic’s absence that kept Denver’s lead in the fourth, but for Miami, that is something you 100% live with and a situation you want to happen again.
The Heat need to continue to draw contact down low and get the Nuggets into foul trouble early. Other than targeting Jokic on defense, the Heat should also take advantage of Murray’s size and draw more isolations on him with Butler. The Nuggets will try to send more help on defense, which should leave more Heat shooters open for much-needed threes. The Heat also have to put the game into the hands of Denver’s role players. They tore it up Friday night, but the Heat should test them again on Monday and see if they can rise up to the occasion yet again.
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers.
It’s pretty easy to summarize. If you turn the ball over a lot, you will probably not win. Additionally, if you don’t generate turnovers, you will also probably not win. The Heat did both Friday night, and, as expected, they did not win.
The Nuggets not only caused 15 Heat turnovers, but did a fantastic job taking care of the ball by only allowing two steals while generating 11 of their own. The Heat need to be more aggressive on defense and get out more in transition. Even with the turnover and steal difference, the Heat scored 14 fast break points to the Nuggets’ 12. Miami does a great job of capitalizing on the break, so they must snag steals on defense to get to that position more often.
The Nuggets are in really good shape to close the series at home Monday. Role players are stepping up, Jokic and Murray continue to dominate and it’s hard to find a flaw in their performance the past two games. Here’s how the Nuggets can assure a party tonight in Denver:
Isolations on smaller Heat defenders
When it comes to size, the Nuggets have a much bigger advantage (no pun intended) and have done a great job using it so far this series. Denver must continue isolating the smaller and skinnier Heat defenders on offense, and like the Heat should do, back them down in the post and generate more contact. Once Miami begins to double-team more, the Nuggets must be vigilant and find the open man early to get uncontested shots off. If they can shoot the same way they did Friday, then Denver should have no issue.
Don’t let Miami shooters get hot
At this point, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the Miami Heat’s success relies on if an undrafted role player can score 20 or more points on 50% shooting or better. I believe the Nuggets share a similar opinion, so they cannot let any of them pop off Monday. Miami’s shooters have struggled these past two games, but if anything, it’s more of a sign that one of them is bound for a big game. If that is so, Denver has to adjust quickly and focus more defensive pressure on the hot hand. The return of Tyler Herro will also generate more defensive attention, so the Nuggets must be locked in all game. Denver can’t afford another undrafted explosion, or this series will get real interesting.
Prediction: No better story than an underdog and this Miami team embodies it to the core. Denver struggles from three and foul trouble while Miami shoots lights out and grinds its way to another road victory. Miami wins 107-102.