MIAMI — Miami sent the Heat at Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic. And Aaron Gordon responded by being the coolest cat on the floor.
“That’s just how this team is built,” shrugged Gordon, who stunned an amped-up Kaseya Center crowd by dropping a team-best 27 points and three 3-pointers on host Miami, powering the Nuggets to a 108-95 win and a stranglehold of the NBA Finals.
“We have guys that can step up night-in and night-out. Sometimes, it’s going to be your night. Sometimes, it’s not going to be your night.”
It was Gordon’s night from the jump. Big No. 50 didn’t just step up and carry the Nuggets for three-quarters of Miami’s gotta-have-it Game 4 on the Heat’s home floor. He set a new career high in postseason scoring (27), besting his 25 points for Orlando in the first round of the 2019 postseason against Toronto.
“He won us the game,” noted Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, who sat for much of the final stanza with foul trouble but still piled up 23 points and 12 boards. “He was our best player on the floor.”
He was the main reason why Denver was able to win, on the road, on a night in which the Nuggets got four-fifths of a usual Joker stat line instead of the full share. One of the final pieces of the Nuggets’ championship roster puzzle and the prize haul of a March 2021 trade that sent beloved guard Gary Harris to Orlando, AG trotted out one of his best-ever NBA performances to the game’s biggest stage.
Gordon rode his hops, then a heater. The former University of Arizona star’s three 3-point makes tied his postseason single-game high (three), and his plus-minus number of plus-29 topped his previous best of plus-27, set in Game 5 of the ’23 Western Conference Finals against Phoenix.
“That’s why we got him,” Murray said of Gordon. “That’s why we got him. He’s a dawg. He’s strong. He’s physical. He’s tough. He’s chill … he brings everybody together off the court. He’s a selfless player. He’s been solid this whole playoff (run). This whole season. This whole time he’s been here, he’s been great.”
The Heat, recognizing Murray’s importance as the head of the snake, blitzed the Blue Arrow at almost every turn. But No. 27 kept his head on a swivel and wisely looked to distribute and not force the issue. The Arrow finished with 12 assists. AG, meanwhile, wound up with the most shots he’s taken for the Nuggets in a postseason game (15) since Game 1 of the Nuggets-Portland series two years ago.
“I thought Aaron Gordon was huge all night long,” coach Michael Malone said after his team snatched a huge 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. “He brought his hard hat tonight and was just awesome at both ends for us.”
Gordon was imported from Orlando to be a versatile, long, athletic defensive stopper, knowing that he would transitioning from taking 18-20 shots per game on a bad team to taking only 11-13 per night on a very good one. He’s responded with three plus-minus games during this dominant postseason of a whopping plus-25 or higher.
“He just wants to win,” Murray said. “We all want to win. We all want to help each other accomplish our goals.”
As the third or fourth choice within the Nuggets’ offense, Gordon and his teammates quickly realized that Miami was consistently switching smaller men onto him as they played defensive musical chairs.
In a page ripped straight from the Joker playbook, when big No. 50 saw a height discrepancy, he didn’t hesitate to lower his shoulders and take advantage.
“AG was just being extremely aggressive,” teammate Bruce Brown said. “(When they switched defenders), every time, we wanted him to be aggressive … he was huge for us.”
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