MIAMI (AP) — Never had two players from the same team had 30-point triple-doubles in the same game. Never in the regular season. Never in the playoffs. Certainly never in the NBA Finals.
Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray made history Wednesday night — and have the Denver Nuggets two wins away from making some real history as well.
Jokic and Murray became the first teammates in NBA Finals history to both record triple-doubles, and the Nuggets reclaimed the lead in the series by beating the Miami Heat 109-94 in Game 3.
“By far, their greatest performance as a duo in their seven years together,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said, after his team moved two wins away from Denver's first title.
Jokic finished with 32 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists — the first such game in NBA Finals history, or at least the first since assists were tracked. Murray had 34 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, getting the rebound he needed with 9 seconds remaining.
Murray, of Kitchener, Ont., also set a single-game record for points by a Canadian in an NBA Finals game.
The Nuggets outrebounded the Heat 58-33, and took a 2-1 lead. Game 4 is Friday in Miami.
“I’m just glad that we won the game,” Jokic said. “It was a big one for us because they won in our arena. We just didn’t want to go down 2-1.”
Jimmy Butler scored 28 points for Miami, and Bam Adebayo finished with 22 points and 17 rebounds. Caleb Martin added 10 points.
“We've got to come out with more energy and effort and that's correctable,” Butler said. “That's on us as a group.”
Jokic and Murray combined for 24 field goals; Miami had 34. Jokic and Murray combined for 31 rebounds; Miami had 33. Jokic and Murray combined for 20 assists; Miami had exactly that many.
Somehow, some way, the Heat know they need to find an answer before Friday.
“It's not an easy task to do,” Butler said. “But if we want to win, we're going to have to figure it out.”
Miami has been the comeback kings of these playoffs — seven rallies in games after trailing by at least 12 points. The Heat were down by 14 going into the fourth, and Malone reminded his club of Miami’s penchant for comebacks.
“First two games, they won the fourth quarter,” Malone said. “Tonight, we win the fourth quarter, we win the game.”
His team listened.
The lead eventually reached 21, the outcome never seriously in doubt, and Jokic looking very much like he's back in cruise control. The Heat got within nine on a 3-pointer by Duncan Robinson with 1:22 left, but there was no epic finish for Miami. Murray and Jokic had the Nuggets too far ahead to get caught.
“You have to expect there to be elite talent in the finals,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And both those guys are elite-level talent.”
Officially, Jokic is now the seventh player to have two triple-doubles in the same finals. Magic Johnson and LeBron James each did it in three different finals. Draymond Green, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird and Butler all had one title series with two triple-doubles.
It was Jokic's 10th triple-double of these playoffs, extending his single-season record, and he was unbothered by whatever Miami threw his way. He finished 12 for 21 from the floor, 7 for 8 from the line, playing 44 minutes.
“We were more locked in, more focused,” Jokic said.
Christian Braun was tremendous off the bench for the Nuggets, scoring 15 points on 7-for-8 shooting in 19 minutes. Aaron Gordon added 11 for Denver.
And afterward, they both marvelled at what their stars did in Game 3.
“It’s greatness, man. It’s greatness,” Gordon said. “That’s a dynamic duo right there.”
Added Braun: “I would say that it’s what they do every game.”
Miami never led in the second half. A dunk by Adebayo put the Heat up 44-42 with 3:18 left in the half, before a 3-pointer by Murray represented the seventh and final lead change of the night. It was 53-48 at halftime, before Denver pushed the lead to double digits for the first time early in the third and wound up leading by as many as 19 later in that period.
The Heat stole home court by winning Game 2 in Denver, a game where Murray had a chance to force overtime with a 3-point try that missed at the end. The Nuggets now have the lead again, and there was no Game 2 hangover on Wednesday.
“Not just me,” Murray said. “Everybody bounced back.”
Nuggets: Denver used Reggie Jackson in the first quarter, going nine deep in the opening 12 minutes for the first time since Game 2 of the West finals. ... Denver hadn’t lost two consecutive games to Miami since March 14 and Nov. 30, 2016. Jokic played in both of those games, Murray in the second one early in his rookie season.
Heat: It was the first finals game in Miami since 2014. The Heat didn’t have any “home” games in the 2020 finals, which were held in the NBA’s restart bubble near Orlando. ... Wednesday was the 11th anniversary of LeBron James' 45-point, 15-rebound, five-assist game at Boston in Game 6 of the East finals — staving off elimination. The Heat won Game 7 and went on to beat Oklahoma City for James' first title.
Miami’s Udonis Haslem — in his 20th and final season — set a record. He became the oldest player to appear in the NBA Finals, breaking the mark of 42 years, 58 days set by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on June 13, 1989.
Haslem turns 43 on Friday. He played the final 29.8 seconds.
Jokic had 10 points, seven rebounds and three assists in the first quarter. The only other players in the last 25 years to have that in any quarter of a finals game were Stephen Curry (12-7-5) for Golden State in the third quarter against Cleveland on June 4, 2017, and Shaquille O’Neal (12-7-3) for the Los Angeles Lakers in the second quarter against Philadelphia on June 8, 2001.
Former Heat player and NBA champion Mike Miller — now an agent — was at the game, along with one of his clients, Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero of the Orlando Magic. Banchero tweeted “game ain’t even started yet I’m in here star struck."
DJ Khaled was in attendance, along with soccer greats Neymar and Paul Pogba (on the day Lionel Messi committed to play for Inter Miami), Shakira, Magic Johnson, J. Cole (who played a role in getting Caleb Martin to the Heat) and Dwyane Wade — who starred for Miami’s title teams in 2006, 2012 and 2013.
Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press