The NBA Finals are all tied up. The Heat stole Game 2—and homecourt advantage—with a 111–108 over the Nuggets on Sunday. Miami survived a second-quarter onslaught with a fourth-quarter run of their own. Jamal Murray missed a three as time expired that would have sent the game to overtime. Instead, the series heads to Miami at 1–1.
Here are three thoughts on the Heat’s victory.
1. Miami’s playoff shooting returned
After shooting 13-of-39 from deep in Game 1, the Heat shot a scorching 17-of-35 from three in Game 2. It’s been a recurring theme for Miami in the postseason. If it shoots like the 2018 Warriors playing on rookie mode, the team typically wins. The turnaround was perhaps best exemplified by Max Strus. After Strus shot 0-of-9 from outside to start the series, he hit four of his 10 threes Sunday. Overall, the Heat outscored the Nuggets by 18 points from three. With Miami having a slim margin for error, the whole roster turning into the Splash Brothers is perhaps its best chance at sustained success.
2. Denver’s defense has to be better
Now, while there will be a lot of discussion about Miami‘s shooting and its unsustainability, the Nuggets did not do themselves any favors in Game 2. Denver’s defensive disposition was poor to start the game. If you kept an eye on this space after Game 1, you’ll remember I complimented Miami’s offensive process despite the team only putting up 93 points. The Heat didn’t radically change their attack Sunday, but they did take advantage of all the open looks Denver gave up. For those who had fears about Nikola Jokic’s ability to hold up defensively in the playoffs, Game 2 gave that group some ammunition. Joker’s drop coverage continued to give up good looks. Bam Adebayo had his second straight 20-point game, and was routinely picking apart the Nuggets on the short roll. While Jimmy Butler could not get going with his own offense, he was able to time and time again collapse the Denver defense and find outside shooters.
This is not new for the Nuggets. They are used to teams attacking Jokic on screens. That’s why intensity matters. That’s why Jokic can’t afford not to close out to conserve energy. That’s why the communication has to be crisp among everyone on the floor. Denver played like it could get every bucket back on the offensive end. While the Nuggets certainly have the offensive talent to play that way, it’s not a recipe for consistent success in the Finals. Denver has to be sharper defensively, and it starts with Joker picking up his intensity. High hands, hedging, stepping into Bam, whatever it takes. This is for all the marbles. You can’t leave open shots on the table for the opponent.
3. Miami’s rotation still needs tweaking
The Heat started Kevin Love on Sunday, a decision that proved prudent. Love played 22 minutes, his most in nearly a month, and was a plus-18 in that time. Starting Love allowed the Heat to put Butler on Jamal Murray to start the game, and Miami’s defense looked noticeably better in that alignment.
The start of the second quarter through two games has been interesting, though. Denver has won the non-Jokic minutes to start the second in each game, a stretch of time that’s usually a danger zone for the Nuggets. Miami’s bench group couldn’t get its offense going to start the second, and Denver almost put the game out of reach early. To start the second, Butler is typically on the bench while Adebayo is on the floor. The Heat should really consider switching that moving forward.
One adjustment would be to flip Bam’s and Jimmy’s rests. That would mean pulling Butler in the first, and putting Adebayo on the bench to start the second. That would more closely align Bam’s minutes with Jokic’s. Miami won the time both Adebayo and Joker were on the floor in Game 2, which is essential to its chances of winning this series. Jokic has been thoroughly destroying Cody Zeller whenever he’s in the game. The Heat won Game 2 by the slimmest of margins. They can’t continue to be throttled whenever Zeller is in the game. Not making him guard the best basketball player in the universe would be a start.