How Jimmy Butler’s Heat Stole Game 2 Road Win vs. Nuggets

Miami Heat, Denver Nuggets, NBA News
NBA Analysis Network

After coming out flat in Game 1 of the 2023 NBA Finals, the Miami Heat bounced back with a 111-108 victory against the Miami Heat during Sunday’s Game 2. The series is now tied 1-1 as it heads to Kaseya Center for Games 3 and 4.

To avoid falling 2-0 in the series, the Heat came out of the gate aggressively and established a 21-10 lead with 4:56 remaining in the first quarter. It proved to be a true game of runs. From then on, the Nuggets went on a significant run — outscoring Miami by a staggering 32-11 margin after getting hot from beyond the arc. Denver managed to build a 44-32 advantage, but once again, the Heat pulled off a run — cutting the deficit to 57-51 at halftime.

“That’s just part of the game,” Butler said of both teams pulling off runs. “A lot of the teams in this league, and that’s definitely them, they have some big time shot makers. Like I said, we are going to stay with it. We know what we’re capable of, get some stops, we can make some shots as well, and got the opportunity to turn the game around and get one on the road.”

NBA NEWS & FINALS COVERAGE: Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat, Nikola Jokic & Denver Nuggets Updates

The Nuggets appeared to have relative control of the game entering the fourth quarter, holding an 83-75 lead. Duncan Robinson provided a significant spark — scoring 10 of the Heat’s first 13 points to open the frame, which was enough to give Miami the lead. At the 9:44 mark of the fourth period, Robinson split the difference using a cut to counter a top lock while playing out of a Zoom action to finish at the rim, which put the Heat up 88-85.

“There was miscommunication, game-plan breakdowns, personnel rhythm going into that fourth quarter, gave us a little bit of breathing room and then they started the fourth quarter 13-2,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

“To me, the wheels really fell off to start that fourth quarter,” Malone explained. “They were getting whatever they wanted, threes, layups, and that allowed them once again to sit back in their zone offense, slow the game down, and we had a hard time getting stops, and then we had a hard time getting made baskets on the other end.”

“Our defense has to be a hell of a lot better,” Malone explained. “That’s two fourth quarters, Game 1 and Game 2, where our fourth-quarter defense has been nonexistent.”

NBA NEWS & FINALS COVERAGE: Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat, Nikola Jokic & Denver Nuggets Updates

Even despite shortcomings, the Nuggets had a chance to tie the game on their final possession. The team used a 3-point attempt from Jamal Murray to try to do so, but the shot with 1.2 seconds left in regulation was offline.

“It was a good look, just didn’t go down,” Murray said.

The Heat received a balanced scoring display from their main scoring options, with three players scoring 21 or more points: Gabe Vincent (23), Bam Adebayo (21), and Butler (21). Miami also received double-figure scoring displays from Max Strus (14) and Robinson (10). They shot 17-35 3P (48.6%) as a team to set the tone after shooting just 33.3% in Game 1.

“More intentional,” Spoelstra said of the Heat’s approach on offense. “And that doesn’t guarantee you anything either, but at least you give yourself the best chance. That the ball is going where it needs to go, and everybody understands what we are trying to get accomplished. Then you have to trust. You have to trust each other.

“So we did get some relief points on cuts and extra passes, ball movement that led to open shots,” Spoelstra explained. “Yes, it always looks better if the ball goes in. But our guys are competitors. They love those kinds of moments.”

NBA NEWS & FINALS COVERAGE: Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat, Nikola Jokic & Denver Nuggets Updates

Jokic had a major performance for the Nuggets, as he contributed 41 points and 11 rebounds but finished with just four assists. None of his teammates cracked the 20-point threshold, but Murray came close with 18 points and 10 assists. An inability to get timely stops proved challenging. The flow of the game required Jokic to be aggressive as a scorer,

“Yeah, that’s a ridiculous — that’s the untrained eye that says something like that,” Spoelstra said when asked if they tried to turn Jokic into a scorer.

“This guy [Jokic] is an incredible player. You know, twice in two seasons he’s been the best player on this planet,” Spoelstra explained. “You can’t just say, ‘Oh, make him a scorer.’ That’s not how they play. They have so many different actions that just get you compromised.”

“We have to focus on what we do,” Spoelstra explained further. “We try to do things the hard way, and he requires you to do many things the hard way. He has our full respect.”

NBA NEWS & FINALS COVERAGE: Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat, Nikola Jokic & Denver Nuggets Updates

The Nuggets have been considered heavy favorites in the NBA Finals against an eight-seed as their opponent. Such circumstances — especially after a Game 1 victory — can create complacency. The team had previously been 11-0 in the playoffs with a double-figure lead but failed to set the tone to begin both halves, and Malone saw an apparent lack of effort which he called “really perplexing” and “disappointing.”

“Let’s talk about effort,” Malone said. “I mean, this is the NBA Finals and we’re talking about effort. That’s a huge concern of mine. You guys probably thought I was just making up some storyline after Game 1 when I said we didn’t play well. We didn’t play well. … This is not the preseason. This is not the regular season. This is the NBA Finals.”

There will need to be a re-focus from the Nuggets entering Game 3, considering the team has struggled to execute on the road throughout the season.

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