September 30, 2023

Stubborn Heat “don’t care” if they fit in or not

DENVER — The Miami Heat are too stubborn to realize their talent shouldn’t have taken them this far, too stubborn to realize a knockout punch from the Denver Nuggets means they have to stay on the mat, too stubborn to accept that they should not have played the NBA Finals on Sunday night.

But, in their own words, they don’t care.

About what the public thinks, about the Nuggets’ home record, about what Las Vegas thinks should be the outcome of this series.

The steely determination once again showed itself in resounding fashion as they silenced a celebratory crowd licking their fingers in anticipation of a title, flying back to South Beach doing what they do best: stealing home field advantage and enjoying this Finale. make a real series.

Jamal Murray’s potential tie 3 looked on the line, but failed to hit the target, capping off a 111-108 Game 2 win at Ball Arena. It was on the back of one of the more impressive fourth-quarter displays in recent memory, with a 69% shot and 5-of-9 triples to erase an 8-point deficit in the last 12.

They had already picked themselves up after Denver tabled the big Joker, as the Nuggets took a 15-point lead in the second quarter – most of it when Nikola Jokić took his usual rest.

Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo to the basket against Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon during Game 2 of the 2023 NBA Finals at Ball Arena in Denver on June 4, 2023. (Mark J. Terrill - Pool/Getty Images)
Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo to the basket against Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon during Game 2 of the 2023 NBA Finals at Ball Arena in Denver on June 4, 2023. (Mark J. Terrill – Pool/Getty Images)

We’ve seen teams fold under this pressure, the severity of the Nuggets during these playoffs – most have been unable to concentrate for 2½ hours and stubbornly stuck to a plan for whatever reason.

The Heat suffered the most losses last season, which should have been a harbinger of how the playoffs would play out. And while that would have broken most teams – a cumulative effect over years and playoff runs, they absorbed the pain but gave it back to the world.

If they could recover from that crushing loss to Boston in Game 6 of the conference finals, a small mistake in Game 1 wouldn’t hurt their confidence or belief in themselves.

The heat doesn’t care anyway.

But they want to win or at least play a game on their terms. They find the beauty in a cracked mirror, they dedicate themselves to playing an imperfect game perfectly, and just when you think their talent is gone, someone emerges from the mud.

In the fourth, it was Duncan Robinson, who executed his backdoor cuts and flares with precision to the 3-point line – confusing for a Nuggets team that has rarely been on the defensive in the last two months.

Robinson and Bam Adebayo took turns blocking the Nuggets as Jimmy Butler took his early rest, taking advantage of Michael Porter Jr.’s now-rare defensive mistakes. Before you knew it, the Heat attacked and the Nuggets attempted to regain control of a game that was never on their terms to begin with.

“Our guys, regardless of how the head coach feels, during the fourth quarter, our guys like to compete,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “They like to put themselves in those moments of truth. Fortunately, we were able to make a lot of great defensive plays, and then we got a lot of contributions, which you will need against a team like this.”

Spoelstra shot down the Heat’s idea that allowed Jokić to score while trying to knock out the other powerful offensive options, but every time Jokić scored at least 40 (41 with 11 rebounds) in these playoffs, his team lost. .

Jokić took 28 shots while the next closest Nugget, Murray, had nearly half the tries (15).

“Yeah, that’s ridiculous – that’s the untrained eye saying that,” Spoelstra snapped. “This guy is an incredible player. You know, twice in two seasons he was the best player on the planet. You can’t just say, ‘Oh, make him a goalscorer.’ They don’t play like that, they have so many different moves that just put you in danger.

But the Heat were the ones to compromise the Nuggets even early as a significant lead turned into a Nuggets advantage. Spoelstra put Kevin Love back in the lineup after a few DNPs, and it prevented Aaron Gordon from celebrating early, as Love was a +18, trailing only Gabe Vincent.

And Vincent – one of those undrafted guys you hear about so much when you talk about the Heat – provided the Nuggets’ shooting couldn’t counter. Vincent and Max Strus each hit 4 3-pointers – Strus made up all misses in Game 1.

“But Max has also proven that he can influence winning, regardless of whether the ball goes in,” said Spoelstra. “He puts in more time than he should. He’s a masochist, like all of us. He will always put in the time. He’s flammable. And we needed everything he did tonight.

Strus doesn’t care either. Nor Adebayo, who can frustrate and amaze in the same game, let alone the same game. Adebayo had to eat those buckets of Jokic while staying out of trouble, then had to throw a hit on the other side to keep Denver’s defense fair.

“I just don’t think anyone cares about our team,” said Butler, working himself into a 21-point game. “We don’t worry about what anyone thinks. We are so focused on what we do well and who we are as a group that we end up falling back on that. Make-or-miss shots, we’ll be who we are because we don’t worry about anyone else. It’s been that way all year and it’s not going to change.”

Butler said he would continue to spray the ball to the Heat shooters, and they again rewarded the confidence as they have in the last few games of this playoff run. Even Butler had to come up with a short memory in the fourth quarter, certainly symbolic of Miami’s approach and mental toughness.

As soon as he got back into play in the fourth quarter with eight minutes remaining, he dribbled the ball off his foot, leading to a Jokić basket.

On the next possession, he unleashed a triple into Gordon’s eye. He can cause chaos in a minute and deliver the calming balm seconds later.

“I don’t think there’s any secret sauce to it,” Butler said. “I think we just move the ball, pass the ball to the open man and play some simple basketball.”

If it wasn’t a secret sauce, other teams would manage to duplicate it, by not folding at the first sign of adversity. It almost felt like the Nuggets freaked out seeing the Heat didn’t, and the fourth quarter played out accordingly.

“So that’s what I think it is,” Butler said. “I think it’s the ‘I don’t care’ factor.”

They don’t, but they don’t mind seeing your pain.

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