Staring down a 2-0 deficit in the NBA Finals, as the visitors in a hostile arena where no road team had prevailed in more than two months, the Miami Heat decided to do what they’ve done throughout the postseason.
It was a wild game, with Miami taking a double-digit lead in the early going before Denver went on a 40-14 run to seize control in the second quarter. In the third, the Heat clawed back into the game, but saw Nikola Jokic put the Nuggets on his back to close the quarter, pushing Denver out to an 8-point lead going into the fourth.
There, Miami finally took advantage of the non-Jokic minutes, with Duncan Robinson spearheading the effort to open the quarter as he scored 10 points in the first 2:16 of the fourth to push Miami out to a three-point lead (with some help from Gabe Vincent, who had 23 points to lead the Heat in scoring).
Miami would continue growing that lead steadily through the rest of the quarter, and a Bam Adebayo dunk looked like an early exclamation point on a win for Miami as they took an 11-point lead with just under five minutes to play.
However, the Nuggets would get hot late, with a pair of late threes helping get Denver within three.
From there, Jimmy Butler would miss a three to give Denver a chance at the tie. Murray brought the ball up the floor, as Michael Malone opted against a timeout, which was understandable right up until Murray had to go backwards towards midcourt and circle around for a desperation shot that rimmed out.
Malone not wanting to go up against the Heat defense when set and let his stars go to work in semi-transition makes plenty of sense, but once that broke down, it’s hard not to wonder if they should’ve tried to draw something up. In any case, they now have to go win a game in Miami to reclaim an advantage in this series, and they’ll need all of the non-Jokic players to step up in a way they did not on Sunday.
Jokic scored 41 (along with 11 rebounds and four assists) on 16-of-28 shooting, but the rest of the starting five aside from Aaron Gordon (who is supposed to be the fifth option) struggled. Murray finished with 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting, thanks to that late flurry, but they’ll need a steadier game from their second star going forward. Also of concern is the continued shooting woes from Michael Porter Jr. and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who combined to go 2-of-9 from three.
That stands in stark contrast to the Heat who bounced back from some shooting struggles early in Game 1 and once again knocked down nearly 50 percent of their threes on the night as a team (17-of-35). Max Strus once again took 10 threes but this time made four, while Vincent was 4-of-6 from deep to continue his incredible postseason and Robinson and Kyle Lowry combined to go 4-of-6 off the bench. The refrain all postseason has been “can Miami keep shooting like this?” and, once again, the answer was yes. Denver was out of sorts on a number of occasions defending screen actions, losing shooters due to poor communication, and as opposed to Game 1, they were punished for it.
Now the series shifts to Miami, where it still feels like the Heat are operating with less of a margin for error but also have shown they can execute at a level where that doesn’t prohibit them from winning.