Here is Denver one victory away from the Holy Grail. For the quiet city at the foot of the Rockies, the wait could well end as early as Monday in Game 5 already decisive, after 47 seasons of presence in the league.
"We're going to have to turn off the TV and the radio, not read the newspapers, not listen to everyone tell us how great we are, because we haven't done anything yet. By keeping our identity, we will have a great chance to achieve this," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
Miami, for its part, finds itself with its back to the wall, forced to achieve a feat that has happened only once in history, by Cleveland and LeBron James against Golden State in 2016: winning the last three games of the series after being led 3-1.
It will certainly take the Floridians more than their courage, their gnaque and Jimmy Butler, exemplary leader on this meeting (25 pts, 7 assists), to topple this mountain of Colorado, as the ascent seems impossible whatever the slope.
Miami Heat player Jimmy Butler dunks against the Denver Nuggets at the Kaseya Center in Miami on June 9, 2023 during Game 4 of the NBA © POOL FINALS/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP
Because if Jokic was still ultradominant inside (24 pts, 12 rbds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks), it lasted only three quarters, since at the beginning of the last he was upset with a fifth foul that sent him to rest.
Under the eyes of footballers Paul Pogba and Neymar, actor Forest Whitaker, rapper Lil Wayne or former mixed martial arts star Conor McGregor, booed in his attempt to sell a product in his name on the microphone, the Serbian giant also had to have his right ankle, slightly twisted at the beginning of the match.
The two-time MVP nevertheless had the satisfaction of seeing Bruce Brown catch fire in the last quarter, as he scored 11 of his 21 points, with a formidable skill (8/11). On his own, he made the Heat's attempts futile, who had just reduced the gap to 7 units after having counted 17 behind in the previous period.
Denver Nuggets player Bruce Brown at the Kaseya Center in Miami on June 9, 2023 during Game 4 of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat © Mike Ehrmann/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP
The valuable replacement was the "X-factor" in the money-time for Denver, long towed by Aaron Gordon, who walked on water with 27 points in his musette at 11/15 shooting including 3/4 from behind the arc. Simply the best performance of his career in the play-offs, hailed in these terms by Malone: "He was huge all night, a warrior on both sides of the floor".
"Things can change"
The Nuggets once again demonstrated the extent of their collective talent and the variety of their offensive armada, while Jamal Murray was contained to 15 points (5/17), nevertheless managing to contribute by his selflessness with 12 offerings.
"Today was a team effort. I can't even name a person. Everyone got involved," said the back, the first player in NBA history to have at least 10 assists in his first four games of a finals.
Denver's new show of strength also resulted in a 50% three-point success rate (14/28) and defensive deterrence that was up to the challenge.
The Denver Nuggets celebrate their victory in Game 4 of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, on June 9, 2023 at the Kaseya Center in Miami © Megan Briggs / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP
As usual, the Floridians, like Bam Adebayo (20 pts, 11 rbds) and veteran Kyle Lowry (13 pts, 7 assists) did not deserve and fought with all their strength to try to delude themselves in a meeting where they never gave the impression of being able to turn the situation around.
And because this is the "Heat Culture", they intend to fight to the end. "We have an incredibly competitive group. We've done everything the hard way so far, and we're going to have to do it again, focusing first on the need to come back to Miami (for a sixth game, editor's note). Things can still change very quickly," coach Erik Spoelstra warned.
© 2023 AFP