As Jamal Murray crossed into the middle of the floor in transition early in the fourth quarter of the Denver Nuggets' Game 1 win over the Heat -- during a rare fast-break opportunity against a Miami defense that makes you earn every basket -- he spotted Michael Porter Jr. flaring open near the left corner.
Murray slung a one-handed pass that hit Porter in stride. It was the kind of moment a 6-foot-10 sharpshooter dreams about. The Nuggets had scored four points in a row to go back up 88-74 after the Heat had opened the quarter with an 11-0 run to trim Denver's lead to 10. The crowd was roaring. Porter could send them into bedlam with one shot and blow the game open again.
Porter to that point had played a splendid all-around game, but he was cold on 3s, finishing 2-of-11 from deep. The Heat in the second half had juggled assignments to put Caleb Martin on Murray -- leaving smaller defenders (Gabe Vincent then Kyle Lowry) on Porter. The Nuggets smartly responded by running pindowns, handoffs and other actions designed to get Porter open catch-and-shoot looks over those defenders. He had missed them all.
"I was missing my 3s," Porter told ESPN after Nuggets practice on Saturday. "And I had an opportunity to shoot one."
He went into his shooting motion but saw Haywood Highsmith sprinting to leap at him.
(Highsmith played well, and the Heat have used him as Murray's primary defender. They might extend Highsmith's minutes some in Game 2 of these NBA Finals. They even had him switch from Murray onto Nikola Jokic on a few Murray-Jokic pick-and-rolls, but those plays did not go well for Highsmith. It is hard to see any way the Heat can regularly switch smaller players onto Jokic and get away with it. Having Bam Adebayo front Jokic was probably their best tactic against Jokic's post-ups, but the Nuggets were ready for that from the opening tip; when Adebayo fronted Jokic on Denver's first possession of Game 1, rather than try to force a lob pass entry, Murray simply used the front as one giant screen. He drove the Jokic-Adebayo scrum, knowing Adebayo would not be able to meet him on the back side, and laid the ball in.)
Porter pump-faked; Highsmith flew past him and landed in the deep corner. Porter saw daylight and began his shooting motion again. But Highsmith was coming from the other side, and Porter noticed an open alley in front him. In a development that pleased Denver's coaches, Porter aborted his shot, took one hard dribble into the paint and planted for a potential dunk.