Fast forward to Monday, and the series returns to Denver with the Nuggets heavily favored to claim the first championship in franchise history. That's courtesy of a pair of convincing wins in Miami that staked Denver to a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series
The Nuggets are heavy favorites ahead of Game 5. That includes 8.5 points at BetMGM, where they have received slightly more than half of the spread-line action with 51 percent of the bets and 52 percent of the money. The line is at 9.0 points at BetRivers, with the Nuggets heavily supported with 59 and 74 percent of the action, respectively
The Heat's +300 moneyline has been far more popular at BetMGM, drawing 79 percent of the total bets and 51 percent of the money. However, the Nuggets have again been heavily backed at BetRivers, drawing 64 and 82 percent, respectively, at -375
"Yeah, just understand that we haven't done anything," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. "I told our guys, the first thing I said (after the Game 4 victory), 'We're not celebrating. It's a good win. We've done our job. But we're not celebrating like we've done anything yet.'
For everybody outside of the Nuggets' inner circle, there is plenty of evidence that their time is now. If not in Game 5, then in Games 6 or 7 during the coming days
The Nuggets' Nikola Jokic has nearly averaged a triple-double for the entire playoff run with 30.1 points, 13.3 rebounds and 9.8 assists. In the Finals he is averaging 30.8 points with 13.5 rebounds and 8.0 assists
Aaron Gordon had what was perhaps his best game in a Nuggets uniform during Game 4 with 27 points on 11-of-15 shooting, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range
Gordon also has kept Heat star Jimmy Butler in check on the defensive end. Butler has averaged 21.8 points per game in the series, although he has been more productive on the offensive end in the past two games with scoring output of 28 and 25
The eighth-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Heat don't seem to have enough offense to keep up with the Nuggets. All three of the Heat's defeats in the series have been by double digits, although they will take solace in the fact that their lone victory -- 111-108 in Game 2 -- came at Denver
"Same thing it's always been, it's one game at a time," Butler said. "Now we are in a must-win situation every single game, which we're capable of. Some correctable things we've got to do, but it's not impossible. We've got to go out there and do it. We've got three to get."
Bam Adebayo has averaged 22.3 points and 12.5 rebounds during the four games of the NBA Finals, up from his averages of 17.8 points and 9.8 rebounds in the playoffs. But Miami has been held to 95 points or fewer in all three defeats.
"All we are going to focus on is getting this thing back to ... Miami and things can shift very quickly," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "It's going to be a gnarly game in Denver that is built for the competitors that we have in our locker room.
The most popular player prop for Game 5 at BetMGM has been Jokic at +425 to score the first field goal of the game. At BetRivers, it has been Jokic at +120 to make more than 1.5 three-pointers, which has drawn 6.4 percent of the total player prop money at the book. Murray at -278 to score more than 20.5 points has been the most popular overall with 10.3 percent of the total bets.
Game 2 was the Nuggets' only home loss in the postseason. They have covered the spread in nine of their past 10 games against the Heat, and Denver has won the first half in each of its past 13 games against Miami
While the Heat's Tyler Herro appears close to returning from a hand injury that occurred in the opening game of the playoffs, the shooting guard still has not contributed to the cause, leaving 20.1 points per game from the regular season on the bench
THEY SAID IT
Malone's plan over the weekend, in addition to figuring out how to get past the Heat one more time, was to have his players ignore all media -- social and otherwise -- and keep their minds on the task at hand as if it were still significantly out of reach
"Don't listen to everybody telling you how great you are because we haven't done a damn thing yet," Malone said. "We have to win another game to be world champions, and we're going to do that by simply taking it one quarter at a time.
"We stay true to our identity, we'll give ourselves a great chance to do that."
--Field Level Media