The Miami Heat made a change to its starting lineup for Game 2 of the NBA Finals, but it turns out the Heat’s big adjustment was to make more shots.
The Heat’s incredible shot-making led it to a 111-108 comeback win over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night at Ball Arena to steal home-court advantage and even the best-of-7 championship series at 1-1. The result marked the Nuggets’ first home loss of this year’s playoffs as they fell to 9-1 at Ball Arena this postseason.
Game 2 also represented the Heat’s first win in Denver since 2016.
“Our guys love to compete,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said following the win. “They love to put themselves out there in those moments of truth. Fortunately we were able to make a lot of big defensive plays down the stretch, and then we got a lot of contributions, which you’re going to need against a team like this.”
After shooting 40.6 percent from the field and 13 of 39 (33.3 percent) from three-point range in Thursday’s Game 1 loss, the Heat shot 48.7 percent from the field and 17 of 35 (48.6 percent) from three-point range in Game 2 to tie the series.
“We made shots,” Heat star Jimmy Butler said. “That’s what this league is, that’s what this game is, make-or-miss game, make-or-miss league. We made some shots, they didn’t.”
Along with sublime shot-making, the Heat stole Game 2 by dominating the fourth quarter. Miami outscored Denver 36-25 in the fourth quarter to turn an eight-point deficit at the start of the period into a three-point win.
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That was enough to overcome a 41-point performance from two-time MVP Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, a 15-point deficit in the second quarter and an eight-point hole entering the fourth quarter.
Sunday marked the Heat’s seventh double-digit comeback win of this year’s playoffs. That’s tied for the most such wins in a single postseason in the last 25 years, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
The Heat pulled of this rally by opening the fourth quarter on a 32-12 run to turn an eight-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter into a commanding 12-point lead with 3:39 to play.
The Nuggets made one final push, responding with a quick 13-4 run to trim the deficit to three and put themselves in a position to send the game into overtime.
After Butler missed a three-pointer with 14.6 seconds to play and the Heat ahead by three, the Nuggets opted not to call a timeout after Bruce Brown grabbed the defensive rebound. Instead, Nuggets star guard Jamal Murray dribbled down the court, got a screen from Jokic and took a step-back three over Butler that would have tied the score.
But Murray’s shot rimmed out with 1.9 seconds left, and Caleb Martin grabbed the defensive rebound to clinch the victory for the Heat.
“I think he got off a decently good look,” Butler said of Murray’s shot in the final seconds. “Kind of like a high pick-and-roll isolation, and I just contested it. Pretty glad that he missed it to give us a 1-1 series tie going back to Miami.”
Behind its stellar three-point shooting, the Heat outscored the Nuggets 51-33 from beyond the arc. That was enough to negate Denver’s 48-34 edge in the paint.
Gabe Vincent led the Heat with a team-high 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 shooting from three-point range.
The Heat’s leading duo of Bam Adebayo (21 points, nine rebounds and four assists) and Butler (21 points, four rebounds and nine assists) combined for 42 points on 33 shots, 13 rebounds and 13 assists to just four turnovers.
Adebayo also continued to take on the ultra-challenging task of trying to slow Jokic. While Jokic scored 41 points on 28 shots, he finished with a playoff-low four assists and committed five turnovers.
“Some ball pressure. Getting back. Getting our hands on loose balls and just challenging every pass, every shot,” Butler said of the Heat’s defensive game plan against Jokic. “He’s a hell of a player. He passes the ball so incredibly well. Obviously he can score the ball like he did tonight. But when you get the opportunity to turn the ball over and get out into the open floor, I feel as though we have to do that, and we did a decent job of that today.”
Max Strus bounced back from his nightmarish Game 1 for the Heat, when he shot 0 of 10 from the field and 0 of 9 from three-point range. He was aggressive early in Game 2, scoring 12 points on 4-of-7 from beyond the arc in the first quarter and finishing the win with 14 points.
As for the change to the Heat’s starting lineup in Game 2, veteran forward Kevin Love moved back into opening five in place of Martin. Love returned to the Heat’s starting lineup after falling out of the Heat’s rotation and not playing in the previous three games, while Martin returned to a bench role after starting the last three games.
The Vincent-Strus-Butler-Love-Adebayo lineup opened Game 2 on a 21-10 run before the Heat made its first substitution. This group went on to outscore the Nuggets by 20 points in 22 minutes on Sunday.
Love finished his 15th start of these playoffs with six points and 10 rebounds.
The Heat improved to 11-2 in the playoffs when starting a game with this lineup.
The Heat, which is only the second No. 8 seed to advance to the NBA Finals in league history, is looking to become the first No. 8 seed to win the NBA championship
The Finals now move to Miami for Games 3 and 4, where the Heat is 6-2 in the playoffs. Game 3 is Wednesday at Kaseya Center (8:30 p.m., ABC).
“It’s going to be a different game entirely,” Vincent said, looking ahead to Game 3. “I think every game will be different this series, especially. It will be great to be back home to start with, be back in front of our fans, it will be an awesome environment, great experience. It’s going to be a battle. They are going to bring everything they got and we’d better do the same.”