MIAMI — Supposed home court advantage has switched twice in three NBA Finals games, which is enough to question whether home court advantage really exists in this series.
The Nuggets bounced back from their first home loss of this postseason by triple-doubling the Miami Heat into oblivion Wednesday night in South Beach, 109-94. Now they have a chance to move within one step of their first-ever NBA championship Friday (6:30 p.m. MT, ABC) at Kaseya Center.
Here are three keys to Game 4.
1. Throw off the Heat’s 3-point rhythm: Miami shot 33% beyond the arc in Game 1. Good luck for the Nuggets. Miami shot 49% in Game 2. Bad defense caught up with the Nuggets. Miami shot 31% (11 for 35) in Game 3. Finally, this time, the Nuggets started to earn their good fortune. They stopped over-helping and had more effective close-outs. Bruce Brown had a pair of solid contests down the stretch as Miami missed eight of its last 10 attempts in the last eight minutes. Gabe Vincent finally slowed down, and Max Strus reverted to (a less extreme) Game 1 mode. Jimmy Butler’s shooting inefficiency continues to be a storyline. He’s now 30.2% from 3-point range dating all the way back to the first-round series finale vs. Milwaukee. Since Game 2 in Boston, he’s 40% from the field in eight games. Denver is taking him away as much as possible. Overall it’s simple: Miami can only win when it shoots the lights out.
2. What’s missing? A KCP game: As much flak as Michael Porter Jr. has taken for his ill-timed shooting slump, another Nuggets starter has also quietly struggled to contribute offensively. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is averaging 6.3 points in this series. He’s 5 for 16 from the field and 2 for 9 from deep. He’s having trouble getting into a defensive rhythm in games because he got caught in foul trouble in Games 2 and 3. After fouling out in the Nuggets’ only loss, he had two whistles against him in the first six minutes Wednesday in Miami. His Game 3 action was down eight minutes as a result. The Nuggets have witnessed his potential as a team engine ignition on the road, as recently as the clinching Game 6 in Phoenix. If he avoids early fouls and sees one of his transition 3-pointers go through, it can add another dimension in Game 4.
3. Toughness in crunch time: If there’s any minutia worth concern from Game 3, it’s the recurrence of a pattern. The Heat caught Denver sleeping late in the fourth quarter and swiftly trimmed a 21-point deficit to nine. The Nuggets’ lead also went from 24 to nine in the fourth quarter of the series-opener, which foreshadowed Miami’s double-digit second half comeback in Game 2. It seems increasingly clear that Denver is the superior team as long as it doesn’t get in its own way. The only way for the Heat to win the championship is if the Nuggets become mentally soft every time their opponent makes a run.
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