MIAMI (AP) — There is some irony in the Denver Nuggets being the last team that Udonis Haslem will ever suit up against.
They were the team that almost got him out of Miami.
In the summer of 2010, when most of the eyes in the NBA free agent world were on Miami for three other reasons — LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade — the Nuggets made a serious run at signing Haslem. The offer: five years, $34 million. And he was seriously tempted.
But then Miami’s pieces began falling into place. Bosh said he wanted to play in Miami, which got Wade to stay in Miami, then got James to commit to Miami and the Heat “Big Three” era was born. And on the night they all signed their contracts in Miami, those three players were huddled with Heat executives figuring out how much money they would have to give back to retain or sign some other players — including Haslem, who eventually re-signed with the Heat for five years and $20 million.
“I hadn’t thought about that,” Haslem said. “I could have gone to Denver and things would have been a lot different. It would have changed a lot of things. Obviously, I’m happy I didn’t.”
So are the Heat. Haslem never left, spending all 20 of his NBA seasons with the Heat. He became the oldest player in NBA Finals history to appear in a game when he checked in for the final half-minute of Game 3 on Wednesday night. And on Friday, he’ll celebrate his 43rd birthday by suiting up for Game 4 – when the Heat will try to tie the series at two games apiece.
Friday could be his final home game with the Heat. One way or another, whether Denver wins the title or Miami rallies, his career is over in a few days. It is a delicate balance for Haslem — soaking in all the moments from the last games of his run as a player, while also trying to be the leader the Heat and coach Erik Spoelstra have needed him to be for much of his two decades with the franchise.
“I had that conversation with Spo: ‘How do I be me for these guys and also enjoy it?’” Haslem said. “Often times, chasing it is not enjoyable. It’s enjoyable if you win it. But chasing it is hell. So, I had to figure it out: ‘How do I be me, and still enjoy it?’ I struggled with that early on, and then I figured it out.”
Haslem is expected to remain with the Heat going forward, in a still-to-be-determined capacity with the front office.
3’S NOT REQUIRED
Denver made only five 3-pointers in Game 3. The Nuggets have won a league-best three times this season when making no more than five shots from beyond the arc.
The Nuggets’ five 3s and 18 attempts were both the fewest by any team in a playoff win this season. And it was a performance the likes of which wasn’t seen in an NBA Finals victory in 10 years.
Miami was 4 for 12 on 3s in its Game 4 win over San Antonio in the 2013 finals. Every team that had won a finals game since had taken, and made, more 3s than the Nuggets did in their win Wednesday night.
Denver’s plus-25 rebound differential in Game 3 on Wednesday night — 58-33 — was the biggest in an NBA Finals game in more than 50 years.
The last time such a one-sided rebounding total appeared in a finals game was 1972, when the Los Angeles Lakers had a 28-board edge — 67-39 — in Game 5 of their series against the New York Knicks.
Before Wednesday, Denver hadn’t had better than a 21-rebound edge in any game this season. Miami’s previous season-worst was getting outrebounded by 24 in a play-in tournament game loss to Atlanta.
Denver’s Jeff Green, who owns a home in Miami and had teammates over for dinner before Game 3, was asked if he would let the Nuggets use his house for a championship celebration if they win the title. “At my house? No, not there. If we’re celebrating that, no. My house would be destroyed,” Green said.
HERE AND THERE
— Miami guard Tyler Herro remains listed as out for Game 4. He hasn’t played since the first half of Game 1 of Round 1 because of his broken right hand, which has since healed but not enough to where he’s comfortable playing.
— Udonis Haslem isn’t the only Heat player celebrating a birthday on Friday. Rookie Nikola Jovic turns 20.
— Game 3 was Denver’s 100th game of the season. This is the first time that the Nuggets have reached triple figures for games played in one season; they played 98 games in 2008-09.
— A win in Game 4 would be Denver’s 25th on the road this season, tying a franchise record set last season.
Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press