NBA Finals 2023: 3 keys to watch for in pivotal Game 4

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

The Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets are locked into a battle for the NBA championship. Here’s what to watch for in tonight’s Game 4.

The Denver Nuggets hold a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals after demolishing the Miami Heat at the Kaseya Center by a final score of 109-94 on Wednesday night.

The keys to victory were fairly straightforward for the Nuggets. They pummeled Miami on the interior, (60-34 advantage on points in the paint), limited Miami’s effectiveness from the perimeter (the Heat shot just 11-of-35 from 3, after shooting 17-of-35 in Game 2), and had the better star duo, with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray becoming the first pair of teammates to put up 30-point triple-doubles in NBA Finals history. Both Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo suffered off-nights, shooting just 11-of-24 and 7-of-21 from the field respectively. Butler’s playmaking in particular took a hit, as he was limited to just four assists in Game 3 — his lowest output since the Eastern Conference Semis.

Both teams will come out with a sense of desperation tonight. Miami will be looking to avoid a 3-1 Finals deficit that only the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers have been able to overcome. Meanwhile, Denver would love to have at least two cracks to win the series on their home floor, which would start with a victory tonight.

Keys to the NBA Finals, Game 4: Jamal Murray in the pick-and-roll

After struggling to find his rhythm in Game 2, Murray’s aggressiveness in the pick-and-roll was vital to Denver’s Game 3 win. Murray received 42 ball screens in Game 3, which was tied for the third-most screens he’s received in a game this season, and for good reason, as he gave Miami fits out of that action all night long. In the first quarter, he put Miami on alert, getting deep into the lane against their drop coverage to seek out good looks for himself early on the first few possessions of the game.

Then, he used the extra attention he received to create easy shots for Nikola Jokic, who was the recipient of seven of his 10 assists in Game 3.

Murray scored 26 points in Denver’s victory in game one, had just 18 in their Game 2 loss, then dropped 34 points in Wednesday night’s win. While containing Murray is far easier said than done, keeping the lid on his scoring is going to be vital for Miami to even up this series. Making life harder for him in the pick-and-roll is a good place to start.

Keys to the NBA Finals, Game 4: Miami’s 3-point shooting

By now we all know the story. Miami’s 3-point shooting, after ranking 27th in the regular season, has been a crucial element in their postseason success. In these playoffs, Miami is 9-5 when they make 13 or more 3-pointers and are 5-5 when they make anything less than that. They’ve shot better than 48 percent from beyond the arc on six separate occasions in these playoffs, and are undefeated when they do so.

Meanwhile, Denver is just 2-3 in these playoffs when giving up 13 or more 3s to their opponents, and is 12-1 when their opponents make fewer than that amount. While there is obviously more to it than hitting a predetermined number of shots from distance, it’s imperative for the Heat to shoot better from the perimeter than they did in Game 3 if they want to even the series tonight.

Miami will be looking for bounce-back performances from Gabe Vincent and Max Strus tonight, who combined to go just 2-of-10 from the perimeter in game three after going 8-of-16 in Game 2. Duncan Robinson hasn’t shot badly this series (42.9 percent), but hasn’t made much of an impact until the fourth quarters of these Finals games. Perhaps they make an effort to get him going earlier in the game tonight?

Eastern Conference Finals hero, Caleb Martin, has seen his minutes fluctuate this series and hasn’t looked for his shot the same way he was in the previous round. While his 3-point shooting percentage in the Finals is at a healthy 44 percent, he’s taken just nine 3-pointers all series after averaging over six attempts per game against the Celtics. Maybe we see a more aggressive Martin in Game 4?

Kyle Lowry and Kevin Love are capable 3-point shooters who have gotten some good looks in this series, will the two veterans be the ones to step up tonight?

Regardless of where the shooting comes from, given how lethal Denver’s offense is (they are owners of a sky-scraping, 121.4 offensive efficiency rating in these playoffs), Miami is going to need to ignite from beyond the arc to have a chance of picking up a win tonight.

Another part of this to watch is how effective Jimmy Butler is as a playmaker tonight. He was the assist-man on 10 of Miami’s 3s in Games 1 and 2, but only assisted one triple in Game 3. Look for him to try and draw the attention of Denver’s defense tonight by aggressively attacking mismatches in order to free up his teammates for open looks on the perimeter.

Keys to the NBA Finals, Game 4: Rebounding

After Game 3, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra gave credit to Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray for their brilliant performances in Denver’s win, however, he also bemoaned the fact that the Nuggets won a lot of the “50/50 battles” in the game.

"“We lost a lot of physical, 50/50, or ball in the air, ball on the floor battles throughout the course of the game at key moments, when the moments could have been swing moments, they were coming up with those plays… that made it too much to overcome, the dynamic of those two (Jokic and Murray), but also getting all the extra effort points.”"

In Game 3, Miami got absolutely bludgeoned on the interior, and lost a lot of the hustle plays that have been a staple for this team all season. They were outscored in the paint 60-34 and were outrebounded 58-33. While Denver only won the offensive rebound battle 13-10, in terms of rebounding percentages, Denver grabbed 40 percent of their misses in the game, while Miami only recovered 21.4 percent of their missed shots — a huge disparity that led to a 14-7 Nuggets’ advantage in second-chance points. Denver also grabbed twice as many loose balls as they did (8-4), after Miami won that battle in each of the first two games of the series.

This Heat team has made a habit of winning the “hustle” plays all season long to tilt the game in their favor. In Game 3, they lost their way a little, and Denver made them pay for it. Keeping the rebounding battle close tonight is going to be a major area of emphasis in the Heat locker room, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Miami hit the deck for loose balls in the first quarter to try and regain the edge in this category.

Game 4 tips off at 8:30 pm EST tonight. Can Miami respond once again, and guarantee themselves another game in front of their home crowd? Or will Denver claim a 3-1 lead, and put themselves in a commanding position to win the series?

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