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How can the Heat force a Game 6?
The Denver Nuggets controlled both games in Miami to take a 3-1 series lead.
After two consecutive abysmal second halves at home, the Miami Heat find themselves in a 3-1 series hole to the Denver Nuggets. After four games, the Heat have looked out-matched, as if the eighth-seeded team has finally met an opponent that is better than them and won’t wilt.
It looks like the series is over, but it’s not. The Nuggets still have one more game to win. And for the Heat, it can’t be about becoming the second team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals. (The first one, of course, also had Kevin Love.) Miami needs to focus on winning Game 5 to force the series back to Miami.
Jimmy Butler had an efficient game last night — 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting from the field, seven rebounds and seven assists — but it wasn’t close to enough. He hasn’t had a steal in Miami’s last three games, and Butler was the 2020-21 steals champ. Fans have pointed out possible lingering effects of the ankle injury he sustained in Game 1 of the second-round series against the New York Knicks.
But the Heat need the Butler from the first round against the Milwaukee Bucks to force Game 6.
Aside from a herculean Butler performance, the Heat also need to shoot 3-pointers better. Outside of Game 2, Miami’s 3-point shooting has fallen back to the frustrating levels we saw throughout the 2022-23 regular season. The Heat shot 32 percent from behind the arc last night and just under that mark in Game 3.
The calls to replace Duncan Robinson for Max Strus in the starting lineup have only grown louder. Strus made four 3-pointers in the first quarter of Game 2. Aside from that quarter, he’s made just one 3 in the Finals. Injuries to Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo mean that Erik Spoelstra will have to play Strus, but he should have a short lease. Robinson has played better than Strus in the Finals, so he should get the starting job.
The Heat also can’t afford a third straight bad game from Gabe Vincent. He shot just 3-of-16 in the two games in Miami and struggled with foul trouble both times. He’s played well all playoffs long.
And Bam Adebayo cannot take floaters or fade-away jumpers when he finds Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on him in a mismatch. He needs to establish low-post position and get a high-percentage look or a trip to the foul line.
It’s a tall order, but the Heat have had glimmers the last two games in which it looks like they have a chance — even last night, when a Butler and-one with 8:42 left brought Miami to within 86-81. Game 5 should be about turning spurts into runs.