September 21, 2023

Miami warms up from 3 to even series at 1-1

Kevin Love watched Game 6 and Game 7 against the Boston Celtics from the Miami Heat sideline, wearing home white and road black. He watched Game 1 of the NBA Finals against Denver without logging a single minute. The Heat swept their 34-year-old stretch forward off the bench and into the starting lineup for Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night, helping Miami build a 21-10 lead into the first quarter.

Love was not the answer to slow Nikola Jokić, who would finish with a whopping 41 points and 11 rebounds. Love was not Miami’s leading scorer. But Miami’s extra size helped fight off Denver’s whirlwind onslaught. Love, who had 6 points and 10 rebounds, helped spread the floor even further for the Heat’s own pass-happy scoring offense, which combined 17-of-35 3-pointers in Miami’s 111-108 win over the Nuggets, tying this championship series at 1-1.

DENVER, COLORADO - JUNE 04: Gabe Vincent #2 of the Miami Heat shoots a three-point basket over Christian Braun #0 of the Denver Nuggets during the fourth quarter in Game Two of the 2023 NBA Finals at Ball Arena on June 4, 2023 in Denver, Colorado .  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this photo, User agrees to the terms of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
The Heat’s Gabe Vincent shoots a 3-pointer over Christian Braun of the Denver Nuggets during the fourth quarter in Game 2 of the NBA Finals at Ball Arena on Sunday night in Denver. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Max Strus boomed his first three triples early on after missing all 10 of his attempts off the field in Game 1. high 23 points. Duncan Robinson scored 8 points in the first minute of the fourth quarter to help Miami reverse the story of the first half of bench units clawing for a lead and flipping the game’s script. Miami missed just one shot in the opening 7 minutes of the final frame, storming on a 12–4 run capped by Bam Adebayo’s one-and-one layup, which matched the Heat’s largest lead from the first quarter, an advantage from 104-93.

Both teams overcame double-digit deficits only to squabble with each other after the break, when the pace slowed, like the tires of a car trudging through the mud, where this Miami team has thrived all through the postseason. There was a palpable increase in physicality during the heat defense, most notably with Adebayo resisting Jokić’s bulldozed bruises through the paint. Miami risked being ripped apart by Jokić’s pass, as they did in Game 1, when the two-time MVP made 14 assists. This affair, this second half, the Heat sent second defender after second defender to Jokic by the elbows and on the blocks. Denver’s supporting cast of shooters, when the ball swung their way, couldn’t take advantage. A first-half highlight, a tic-tac-toe run that saw Murray slide a pass to Jokic, who fired a hander to Aaron Gordon on the baseline for an easy layup, was an afterthought against the teeming defense of the Heat in the second half.

Jokić still made his way to points, but there was little rhythm in a Nuggets scoring effort that felt so balanced and effortless throughout much of this postseason. Jamal Murray led a second-quarter spurt from Denver as Jokić rested and hit a flurry of 3-pointers in crunch time, but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored a low-key 6 points on just four tries for the game. Michael Porter Jr., the 2018 lottery picker who has overcome issues with shot selection and defensive attention, stepped back in several questionable looks and got lost on a handful of Vincent’s wide-open looks from deep, losing his assignment in the throws to the actions of Miami.

Credit to Adebayo, who shot 8-of-14, for a brilliant two-way performance, finishing with 21 points and 9 rebounds while taking the brunt of Jokić’s powerful shoulders in restricted area. Adebayo’s efficiency as a goal scorer has diminished during Miami’s advance to the Finals, but the games where he drives downhill with a bucket in his head always seem to get easier on the Heat’s overall quest for a title. Jimmy Butler added 7 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter by knocking down a triple and two baskets from the dribble in midrange.

The series returns to Miami for Game 3 on Wednesday.

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