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Jokic, Murray, Nuggets kick sand in Heat’s faces, with 109-94 victory giving Denver 2-1 NBA Finals lead

MIAMI — Homecourt advantage proved fleeting for the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

What was gained with Sunday’s victory at Ball Arena was relinquished Wednesday night at the Kaseya Center, with a 109-94 loss to the Denver Nuggets in the Game 3 of the best-of-seven series.

That puts the Nuggets up 2-1 going into Friday’s Game 4 back on the Heat’s court, with each team with up to two remaining home games.

Essentially accused by coach Michael Malone of cowering in Game 2, the Nuggets basically arrived to South Florida and kicked sand on the Heat’s faces, closing with a 58-33 rebounding advantage.

It didn’t hurt that Denver also had the night’s two best players, with center Nikola Jokic closing with 32 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists, and guard Jamal Murray adding 34 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. It was Jokic’s 10th triple-double this postseason in his 18 appearances.

Murray was unsolvable early, Jokic unsolvable throughout.

The Heat got 28 points from Jimmy Butler and 22 points and 17 rebounds from center Bam Adebayo. No other Heat player scored more than Caleb Martin’s 10, reaching the point of 42-year-old Heat captain Udonis Haslem entering in the final minute.

But in the big-muscle areas, it was all Nuggets, with a 60-34 scoring advantage in the paint and a 14-7 scoring advantage on second-chance points.

Five Degrees of Heat from Wednesday’s game:

1. Closing time: It was tied 24-24 at the end of the first period, with Denver up 53-48 at the intermission, after neither team led by more than five in the first half. It was the close shots that hurt the Heat over the opening two periods, at 9 of 25 in the paint in the first half.

Denver then pushed to a 19-point lead in the third period and went into the fourth up 82-68.

From there, Denver went up 21 early in the fourth quarter, the Heat cut it to 14 midway through the period and then further closed the gap to nine, before running out of time.

2. Two-man game: Jokic and Murray were just about the entire story for the Nuggets.

Murray had 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting in the first half, including 3 of 5 on 3-pointers.

Jokic nearly had a first-half triple-double, with 14 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists over the first two periods.

No other Denver player had more than five points in the first half.

Murray had closed Game 2 with 18 points and seven baskets.

The two kept going from there, finding additional support later from Aaron Gordon and Christian Braun.

Jokic became the first player to close with at least 30 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in a Finals game and now has three of the five such performances in NBA playoff history.

3. Finding his range: After scoring 34 total points in the series’ first two games, Butler  had 10 points in the first quarter and was up to 26 through three quarters.

The problem was there was little in support, with Butler accounting for 85% of the Heat’s offense in the third period with his 12 points and two assists and that created five points.

Butler then sat at the start of the fourth quarter, returning with 9:19 to play and the Heat down 16.

4. Fast, fade: Adebayo shied neither from shooting nor from attacking the glass, with a double-double with 3:18 remaining in the second period.

That was needed, with Jokic at that point also already with a double-double.

But as Jokic kept going, Adebayo continued to settle for the type of mid-range shots the Nuggets have been willing to concede.

For the  Heat, other than Adebayo’s rebounding, there was no rebounding.

5. Still not ready: Not only was Tyler Herro again inactive, but coach Erik Spoelstra reiterated that Herro has yet to receive medical clearance to return from his April hand surgery.

Spoelstra, though, said it’s not as if there would be a point of no return.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that,” he said, with the series going through at least Monday’s Game 5 in Denver. “But we’re still day-to-day. I don’t have another update for you. He is scheduled to have another full-contact workout [Thursday].

“He has not been cleared yet. So until he has been cleared, a lot of this stuff is really just hypothetical.”

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