The Miami Heat’s Secret Weapon for a Title? Zone Defense.

By the time the Nuggets managed to get the ball upcourt, just 14 seconds remained on the shot clock, and the Heat’s defense had morphed into a halfcourt zone — a 2-3 set, with two players up top at the perimeter and three along the baseline. Murray, the Nuggets’ point guard, missed a 3-point attempt from the left corner, and the Heat raced away for a game-tying bucket.

Unfortunately for the Heat, that was about as good as it got for them in their 109-94 loss to the Nuggets, who took a 2-1 series lead ahead of Game 4 on Friday in Miami. Murray and Jokic both finished with triple-doubles for Denver, which, for one game, at least, was largely unfazed by Miami’s shape-shifting defense.

“We didn’t offer much resistance,” said Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra, who bemoaned his team’s lack of effort but considered it an anomaly. He added: “I think the thing that we’ve proven over and over and over is we can win and find different ways to win.”

And one of those ways is with their zone defense. There is a talent disparity in this series: The Nuggets have more of it thanks to their array of expert shooters and the all-around wizardry of Jokic, a two-time winner of the N.B.A.’s Most Valuable Player Award. So, in an effort to slow the pace of play and compensate for their lack of size, the Heat are occasionally abandoning their man-to-man defense by mixing in some zone.

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