Heat left in 'figure it out' mode after Jokic, Murray dominate Game 3 in NBA Finals

MIAMI ― Jimmy Butler and Erik Spoelstra, the orchestrators of this Miami Heat NBA Finals run, just saw Denver Nuggets stars Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray make history on their home floor.

Jokic and Murray became the first teammates to notch 30-point triple doubles in the same game during Denver’s 109-94 win in Game 3 at Kaseya Center on Wednesday night.

Yet, Butler and Spoelstra believe a lack of effort and being on the losing end of loose balls and 50-50 opportunities proved to be the difference.

Instead, it’s much simpler. Murray and Jokic were just too good. The Heat were outmatched, outclassed and outworked. And the Nuggets have a 2-1 series lead before Game 4 here Friday night.

“We feel great. We didn't play our best. I feel like we just got to come out with more energy and effort, and that's correctible,” Butler said after leading Miami with 28 points on 11-for-24 shooting, with just two rebounds and four assists.

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“So come out, dive on the floor, get loose balls, get defensive rebounds and maybe, just maybe, it would have been a different game.”

Sure, effort plays can make a difference.

But not the difference when Denver’s stars are playing together like a two-man wrecking crew.

MIAMI, FLORIDA - JUNE 07: Jimmy Butler #22 of the Miami Heat reacts after coming out of the game during the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets in Game Three of the 2023 NBA Finals at Kaseya Center on June 07, 2023 in Miami, Florida.

Murray set the tone early, finding his spots behind Jokic’s screens and the three-point line. And he later iced the game at the free throw line, finishing with 34 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Jokic enforced Denver’s tone throughout, bullying the Heat in the paint, getting Murray and others involved, and even nailing a three-pointer to keep the tide flowing in Denver’s favor. He had 32 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists, the 16th triple-double of his playoff career.

And Nuggets rookie Christian Braun, who the Heat picked on defensively during Duncan Robinson’s run in Game 2, scored 15 points off the bench to help Denver take control in the finals.

“You have to expect there to be elite talent in the Finals. Both those guys are elite-level talent,” Spoelstra said of Jokic and Murray.

“At our best version, we find ways to overcome that, make it tough on them and then certainly not lose the overwhelming majority of those physical battles, the 50/50 battles, the ball in the air, ball on the floor battles.

“That made it too much to overcome,” Spoelstra added. “The dynamic of those two, but also getting all the extra, effort points.”

After a game like this, you expected the Heat to say they’ve been here before. How adversity breeds opportunity. How they are battle tested to withstand any obstacle in their way. How they’re not out of the NBA Finals just yet.

But not how loose balls, and 50-50 opportunities, were the difference.

“We have proven that we can figure it out,” Spoelstra said.

Along with Butler’s 28 points, Bam Adebayo had 22 points and 17 rebounds. But Caleb Martin was the only other player in double figures and he scored just 10.

The Heat got off 92 shots, but hit just 37% of them. Denver did most of its damage in the paint, scoring 60 points and outrebounding Miami 58-33.

Asked why the Heat were so lackluster, Butler said:

“I don't know. I can't answer that. Maybe we're at home. We think we did something. I don't know. It just can't happen. It won't happen again,” he said.

“It starts with myself. I have to lock in on the defensive end. I have to go up and get loose balls. I think if I start playing and doing that, then everybody else has to follow suit.”

If the Heat have any chance, and want to avoid a 3-1 deficit heading back to Denver, they must find the firepower to stay close with the Nuggets, or simply choose a preferable poison instead of being picked apart by both Denver stars.  

“We're going to get back to the film and figure it out, because we do have to be better guarding both of those guys,” Butler said of Murray and Jokic.

“One is the ball-hander and one is the guy that is setting the screen and popping and rolling. It's not an easy task to do, but if we want to win, we are going to have to figure it out.”

Follow Safid Deen on Twitter @Safid_Deen.

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