5 takeaways from the Heat’s victory in Game 2 of the NBA Finals

While we’re still waiting for Jimmy Butler’s eruption game, he’s scoring 21 points on 7-for-19 shooting with 9 assists in Game 2.

DENVER— The ball was in the hands of Jamal Murray, usually a safety signal for the Nuggets, and Ball Arena was sweating, Game 2 was running late, and the 4th quarter clock was ticking: 3… so 2… but no cattle.

Murray’s game-tying 3-pointer missed at the buzzer, and so, on a strange night in the NBA Finals, the Nuggets’ dominance at home in the playoffs went offstage left and right as Miami made his entry in this series.

In a nutshell, here’s what the Heat did on Sunday: They became the first team to win in Denver this postseason, and they did it despite a subdued performance from Jimmy Butler, with Caleb Martin weakened by illness and no signs of injury. by Tyler Herro.

It was another bellicose effort from the Heat, who simply outworked and pushed the Nuggets, refused to let up after falling behind by eight points in three quarters, regained their 3-point shooting touch: doing 48% — dominated Denver when Butler took a generous fourth-quarter rest and, of course, defied all logic surrounding a No. 8 seed.

The Heat won the fourth quarter. He put a boot on the neck of the Nuggets and refused to lift the heel. They then held their breath as Murray missed the final shot of the night.

“They came out of that fourth quarter with a huge sense of desperation,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said, “and we didn’t match that.”

So… do we have a series?

The Finals now shift to Miami for a couple of games, and if the playoffs haven’t taught us anything else, basketball life comes fast this time of year. A stroke of fortune (or misfortune), an epic performance by a star, a referee’s whistle… or a missed 3-pointer at the buzzer that tied the game, anything can happen to tip a series in favor of one team over the other. .

This win could be the boost Miami needed.

Or maybe this was a momentary stumble by the Nuggets.

Here are five takeaways from the Heat’s 111-108 win, and a series that’s now tied at once, and where it could go (other than Miami for Games 3 and 4):

1. It’s the assists, not the points

Nikola Jokic dropped 41 points on the Heat. And you’d think the Nuggets would win a game like that, with him constantly punishing Miami with finger spins and arching 3-pointers. Actually, Joker’s most telling stat was this: four assists. Yes Four.

Miami will take it all day, anyway. The Heat’s defense shut down the passing lanes and forced him to score (he made 28 shots, 13 more than the next teammate, Jamal Murray). He is a center who averaged 10.5 assists in the playoffs. And Miami was helped by Jokic’s teammates who collectively laid a ton of eggs. When a pass from Jokic found them, they missed shots even when they weren’t covered.

The most guilty party was Michael Porter Jr. He was a ghost offensively, scoring only five points, never establishing a flow, never making the Heat pay. His 3-point shot has yet to debut in the Finals; Porter is 3-for-17 from that range in this series, and that inability hurt Denver on Sunday.

But it’s never just about one player. Murray (18 quiet points, one hard missed shot) never had a hot stretch in this game, unlike some others. And Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had a rough night. In addition to never doing any damage offensively, he made a bunch of really dumb fouls (on 3-pointers, ranges, mind-blowing decisions) and finally fouled. There are six fouls, one basket, three assists for him.

You can’t make your teammates better, like Jokic does, when the pass doesn’t end in a hoop.

Nikola Jokic became the 14th different player in NBA history to score at least 41 points in a Finals loss.

2. Miami’s ferocity in the fourth quarter

The Heat had a couple of great innings in this game, one to start the game when Max Strus couldn’t miss a shot (unlike in Game 1) and another to start the fourth quarter. The difference between the two is the sustained fourth quarter flurry… emphatically.

“During the fourth quarter, our guys love to compete,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They love to expose themselves in those moments of truth.”

That’s how you win games in the NBA Finals, making a save, keeping one foot on the gas, taking great shots, producing great saves. What’s amazing is how the Heat did this in the fourth quarter with Butler on the bench. Butler didn’t enter the room until 8:03 remained. By then, the Heat were up five points after trailing eight early in the quarter. That’s a 13-point swing without your best player.

How they did it? Duncan Robinson took over in the fourth quarter. He opened up for jumpers, scored on layups, looked like a star: 10 points in an instant of five minutes. Also, Gabe Vincent, brilliant throughout the game, was in command of the court. And Miami’s defense was solid.

Oh, and this needs to be emphasized: Miami has controlled the last two quarters of this series thus far. In Game 1, he made the contest closer than it should have been, thanks to Haywood Highsmith, and now the latest, thanks to Robinson setting the tone.

Basketball scientists and historians are probably still studying this Miami team and scratching their heads trying to figure out how the Heat are doing this. You can start with Gamblers Anonymous, obviously, but also with Spoelstra. His settings and game planning are among the best in the business. Ah, what if Spoelstra won this championship? He would be in the top five all-time among coaches.

See the best of the Heat’s strong fourth quarter in their Game 2 win over the Nuggets.

3. I’m still waiting for The Jimmy Game

There’s a lot for the Heat to be optimistic about. The series is even, the next two games are in Miami (played at sea level!) and Jimmy Butler has yet to sign his name in the NBA Finals.

This is not to say that Butler hasn’t been playing. It just hasn’t been ballistic.

He has yet to be the best or most impactful player on the court through two games. Decent, but not overbearing. In fact, his best stretch came Sunday in the fourth quarter, when he entered the game in the eighth minute, hit some baskets and helped Miami extend the lead. He scored 21 points and, most usefully, nine assists.

Get this: Butler is a very methodical player. He chooses the places for him to score. He spends most of his energy defending and looking for passes to engage his teammates, especially early on. That first-round series against the Bucks where he averaged 37.6 points and had back-to-back games of 56 and 42 wasn’t the real Butler, ditto for his big-scoring nights in the bubble three years ago during the last NBA Finals in Miami. run.

“I keep playing basketball as much as I can,” he said. “Making plays for others. Write down every time I have the opportunity to do so. And through everything else, just find a way to win. I think nobody cares on our team. We are not concerned with what others think. We are so focused on what we do well and who we are as a group that, at the end of the day, that’s what we do. It’s been like that all year.”

But for Miami to win this series, which would be their fourth against a top seed, you’d think at some point the Heat would need at least one of those Jimmy Games. Especially with Herro still on the mend and the unpredictability of Miami’s shooters (they were hot in Game 2, shooting 17-of-35 from deep after the frigid Game 1).

Jimmy Butler answers questions from the media after Miami’s victory in Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

4. Nikola was not a joke

Let’s go back to Jokic and his performance. It was pretty impressive to see how he carried his team, he scored in many ways and he did it against Bam Adebayo, one of the best defensive centers in basketball.

But get this: The Nuggets are 0-3 this postseason when Jokic scores 40 or more points. crazy right? He scored 43 in the first round and lost an extra game against the Timberwolves. He broke out for 53 points in 20 of 30 shots and lost to the Suns. And now this.

Again, this supports the theory that his assists are the most effective part of his triple-doubles.

But there’s one thing Miami should do in this series, if they can, and that’s limit the amount of time Cody Zeller is on the court with Jokic. It has been a mismatch of the first order. In this situation, the Nuggets immediately call the Joker’s number, and do so repeatedly, until Adebayo returns and Zeller is put out of his misery.

“I trust Nikola,” Malone said. “He’s going to read the game. He’s going to read how he’s being marked, and he’s also going to pick his spots where he knows, regardless of how he’s being marked, we need him to score and be aggressive and look to score. Whether it’s 41 points, just four assists, or 25 points and 15 assists, Nikola will make the right reading time and time again.”

5. No more undefeated in Denver

The Nuggets were 9-0 at home in the playoffs through Sunday. It was an impressive run, and taking it one step further, the last time the Nuggets lost a home game with Jokic on the court was March 12.

But is there really a home field advantage so far into the NBA season? Not precisely. Last year the Warriors clinched Boston. The Warriors also lost a Game 7 in Oakland to the Cavs and LeBron James, and Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors shut down that building in 2019 (yes, Kevin Durant was hurt and Klay Thompson didn’t finish that game, but oh well).

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and especially in the playoffs where every game is different, every game matters, which is normal,” Jokic said.

It’s not that simple to be so good and so perfect for so long. Everything must come to an end. The Heat had to win at least once in Denver, and they did. Miami did what the Timberwolves, Suns and Lakers couldn’t, and it was far from a fluke.

“I told our guys if we had won this game tonight, we would have stolen one,” Malone said.

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can send him an email here, find your file here and follow it on Twitter.

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