When Nikola Jokic rolled his ankle late in the first quarter of Game 4, it looked like the Denver Nuggets were at risk of losing control of the NBA Finals.
The Nuggets came into the contest at the Kaseya Center looking to take a 3-1 lead in the series, although the ever gutsy Miami Heat were not going to make it easy for them. The Heat took a one-point lead, 21-20, after the opening period as they looked to tie the series before it headed back to Colorado.
Jokic exited the game to begin the second quarter and headed to the locker room to have his ankle evaluated. Denver could have easily folded, but it was then that Aaron Gordon answered the call.
Gordon, the fourth overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft where Jokic was famously selected 37 spots behind him at 41st, was miscast as a focal point over his first six and a half years in the NBA with the Orlando Magic. The Nuggets traded for him in a midseason deal back in 2021 and slotted him next to Jokic as his athletic sidekick.
While the 6’8 forward may have moved down a rung in terms of pecking order when he moved to Denver, his fit alongside Jokic has been unquestionable since day one and it has undoubtedly helped drive this deep postseason.
In Game 4 of the NBA Finals, the Nuggets faced a potential hurdle with Jokic’s status uncertain to begin the second quarter and they could have easily folded.
However, they did the exact opposite.
The Nuggets continued to go toe-to-toe against Miami, this time with Gordon leading the charge.
For a brief moment, the 27-year-old Gordon morphed into the player that Orlando believed that he could become as he scored Denver’s first eight points of the second quarter. It was a sight to behold as he hit two three-pointers that sandwiched a fadeaway mid-range jumper. This was enough to keep them afloat and the score was tied at 30 when Jokic made his triumphant return midway through the second eventually.
Gordon was not done yet though as he proceeded to score seven more points in the quarter to finish with 15 over the period. He wound up with a game-high and career playoff-best 27 points on 11-of-15 field goals. The Nuggets’ starting forward also had seven rebounds, six assists, a steal and led all players with a +/- of +29.
Denver only led the game by four, 55-51, heading into halftime following Gordon’s standout quarter, but their resilient first half was enough to turn the momentum of the match in their favor for the rest of the evening. The Nuggets built a 13-point lead in the third quarter and led by as much as 17 in the fourth as they took a 108-95 win that gave them a 3-1 lead in these NBA Finals.
The ability of Denver’s role players such as Gordon to step up when Jokic and Jamal Murray have their rare off-nights has been crucial for them throughout this season and it has pushed them to the cusp of the NBA championship. Bruce Brown had a solid outing to support Gordon’s efforts as well, scoring 21 points on eight-of-11 field goals off the bench.
Jokic needed 19 shots to score 23 points though he still had a complete statline with 12 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and three blocks. Meanwhile, Murray scored 15 points on five-of-17 shooting, but he did have his fourth consecutive game in these NBA Finals with at least 10 assists as he tallied 12 in Game 4.
This series will now return to the Ball Arena where the Nuggets will have their first of three opportunities to win the NBA title. The Heat will not go down without a fight though and Denver will have to come out focused if they are to wrap this up in Game 5.
These Nuggets are beginning to look like a team destined to win the championship, yet like in all of the great epics, their success over this last mile will ultimately depend on them and whether they have the willpower to close out Miami succinctly at the Ball Arena.