Erik Spoelstra Addresses Heat Losing Their Identity in Game 3 Loss

Erik Spoelstra Heat Nuggets

Getty Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra reacts during an NBA Finals bout with the Denver Nuggets.

Returning home for Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday, the Miami Heat had a golden opportunity to take a commanding 2-1 lead in their championship showdown with the Denver Nuggets. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray had other plans, however.

Apparently, they had designs on making history en route to a course-correcting victory.

Jokic finished with 32 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists and Murray notched 34 points, 10 boards and 10 dimes. As a result, the two-time league MVP and his flame-throwing running mate became the first teammates to log 30-point triple-doubles in any NBA game — regular season, playoffs, summer league, whatever.

In doing so, they led the Nuggets to a 109-94 win at Kaseya Center.

During his postgame presser, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra gave the two their roses. For his part, though, he was much more concerned about the things his team didn’t do during the game than anything that was happening on the other side.

Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra Sounds Off on His Team Losing Its Identity in Game 3 Loss

As good as Jokic and Murray are as individuals, Spoelstra believes that the two are made even better by their synergy together on the court.

“It’s a great duo,” Spoelstra told reporters. “Their games really complement each other. They have one guy that really can score in a lot of different ways and another guy who’s setting great screens or handoffs. And then, if the ball gets back to him, he can get a bunch of people involved.

“Certainly, at the beginning of the game, that kind of set the tone.”

Spoelstra was more troubled, though, by the Nuggets winning the in-game battles most associated with hustle, toughness and physicality; the things that are also most associated with the Heat and their much-ballyhooed culture.

“From there, we lost a lot of physical, 50/50 or ball in the air, ball on the floor battles throughout the course of the game at key moments,” Spoelstra said. “When the moments could have been swing moments, they were coming up with those plays.

“You have to expect there to be elite talent in the Finals and both those guys are elite-level talent. At our best version, we find ways to overcome that, make it tough on them and then, certainly, not lose the overwhelming majority of those physical battles … and that made it too much to overcome.”

Per’s tracking data, the Nuggets were able to secure eight loose balls during the contest compared to just four for the Heat. Meanwhile, Denver dominated on the glass, outrebounding Miami 58-33, and contested more shots overall (59-48) defensively.

“When we lose a lot of those physical battles — the effort plays, the loose balls, the rebounding battles — that’s our identity and, sometimes, that can affect the flow of the rest of your game.”

Nuggets Coach Michael Malone Speaks Out on His Stars Shining

As Nuggets coach Michael Malone sees it, it was business as usual for Jokic amid Denver’s Game 3 win.

“Regarding Nikola, nothing he does surprises me ever. This guy has shown time and time again that he’s built for these moments. He thrives in these moments — the biggest stage — and he did that once again tonight,” Malone said.

Murray was another matter entirely — and in the best possible way for the Nuggets.

“Jamal, I’m really proud of,” Malone said. “I could tell speaking to him yesterday, being around him the last 48 hours, that he was putting a lot of [Denver’s Game 2 loss] on him and it wasn’t just him — it was me and every one of our players. It was collective. But that’s what champions do. That’s what warriors do. They battle back and I just felt his presence all game long.”