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The Miami Heat host the Denver Nuggets in Game 3 of the NBA Finals Wednesday fresh off of a come-from-behind win at mile-high Sunday.
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It was all business as usual for the highly-favored Nuggets for the majority of Game 2. The Heat got off to a hot start thanks to Max Strus’ display of long-range marksmanship, but Denver’s offensive discipline and overall execution allowed them to quickly regain control and push the lead to double-digits in the second and third quarters.
Duncan Robinson was an unlikely hero that spurred Miami to make a comeback, scoring 10 points in the first couple of minutes of the fourth quarter to force a Nuggets timeout. The Heat also deployed their zone for the first time all game in the fourth quarter and ran with it to the finish line as the hosts never adjusted to the new coverage and could not regain their offensive flow.
Miami was on fire from beyond the arc, but the area it succeeded the most in was bothering Nuggets players not named Nikola Jokic. He finished the game with 41 points but only four assists and is now 0-3 when he scores at least 40 in these playoffs and 19-19 when he doesn’t have double-digit assists.
Bam Adebayo was excellent offensively for the second game running, finishing with 21 points, nine rebounds, and four assists. Gabe Vincent led the scoring column with 23 points on 8-12 shooting (4-6 3PT), and he, Strus, Robinson, and Kyle Lowry combined to shoot 12-22 (54.5%) from long range. But even with the win, it was another strange night for Jimmy Butler.
Miami’s hard-nosed leader scored 21 points on an inefficient 7-19 shooting and had the worst plus/minus of the starting lineup by a wide margin at +3. He is averaging only 17 points on 39% shooting in the Finals and is playing without the energy, passion, and swagger that have come to define him in the postseason. He gave Miami great defense on Jamal Murray and largely took him out of the game but still needs to be better on offense to win the series.
Jokic finished the game with 41 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists, and was fighting the Heat one-on-five at different points in the game. Murray cooled off and had only 18 points as Denver’s other starters struggled to make an impact despite the bench playing brilliantly. Coach Michael Malone needs to figure out how he can get the players not named Jokic involved in spite of Miami’s new defensive coverages
The Heat introduced several new wrinkles during Game 2, including putting Butler on Murray as his primary defender, blitzing the pick-and-roll, and having Butler play downhill as a distributor. All of those helped find weaknesses in Denver’s game plan and were ultimately why they came back after seeming like they were going to get blown out in the second and third quarters.
Miami also received a nice contribution from Kevin Love, who slotted back into the starting lineup and chipped in with six points and 10 rebounds. Expect the Nuggets to target him in the two-man game with Murray and Jokic and force the Heat to play small so they can expose their lack of size on the glass and in transition on offense.
The elephant in the room is the future of Butler. If he has a couple of megastar breakout performances in wait, then the Heat are in a great spot; but if he is stuck at his current gear, whether it be because of an ankle injury suffered in the second round or because he is out of gas, then the Nuggets should cruise their way to a series win.
The Heat have very little margin for error with their role players, a majority of which have to be at their very best to get the Miami offense the punch it needs to compete with a more talented Denver squad. They also need to hope that Adebayo continues to knock down the mid-range shot to command the respect of Jokic and open up spaces for cutters at the second level of the defense.
The Nuggets, despite the loss, still looked like the better team. They shrugged off an early 11-point deficit to rally and regain the lead early in the second quarter and led by double-digits in the fourth before unraveling at the sight of a zone defense. While that is an obvious concern, no offense was better against the zone than Denver’s during the regular season, and there is no player better suited to sit in the middle of the zone than Jokic.
The Heat stole yet another game on the road and yet another game in which they trailed by double-digits, tying the all-time mark of seven. They now have a home-court advantage in a best-of-five for the title.
With that being said, we still like the Nuggets to get the job done in Game 3. It is unrealistic for the Heat to continue winning games with Butler being as ineffective of a scorer as he has been, and the Nuggets were ultimately one Murray missed three-pointer away from forcing overtime in Game 2.
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Grant is a sports and sports betting journalist who prides himself on delivering breaking news and insightful analyses of the industry. Grant graduated from Virginia Tech in 2021 and is feverishly pursuing his ambitions in the sports betting field.
In his free time, Grant can be found passionately watching sports, doing a workout, or searching for adventure with his friends.More info on Grant Mitchell
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