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The Heat trail in a series for the first time. How will they respond?
Miami won Game 1 in the previous three series.
Although a Miami Heat rally in the fourth quarter made the final score respectable, the Denver Nuggets controlled Game 1 of the 2023 NBA Finals. It’s the first time the Heat have trailed in a series this postseason.
And yes, many optimistic Heat fans have pointed out that Miami dropped Game 1 of the Finals in all three of their championship runs. (The Heat also dropped Game 1 of the 2014 and 2020 Finals and went on to bow out those years.)
We shouldn’t kid ourselves. Miami has a lot to clean up to get back in this series. Jimmy Butler started Game 1 hitting a pull-up jumper and then a 3-pointer early, but didn’t assert himself the rest of the game. When he was close to the basket, he often passed out — a big reason why the Heat only took two free throws the entire game, an NBA playoff record low.
Aaron Gordon found himself switched onto Gabe Vincent far too many times. Max Strus shot 0-for-9 from 3, despite many of his shots being open looks. Nikola Jokic sliced up the Heat defense with his passing. After coming close to winning the MVP of the Eastern Conference Finals, Caleb Martin never made an imprint on the game. And for some reason, Erik Spoelstra continues to play Tyler Zeller as Bam Adebayo’s backup.
It’s just one game; that’s the good news. The Heat and Nuggets will have more rest in the Finals than they did in the conference finals; Game 2 isn’t until tomorrow, and Game 3 is Wednesday. Butler hasn’t reached his herculean heights from the first round series against the Milwaukee Bucks. Who knows if that ankle roll in Game 1 of the second round is still limiting him? He needs to provide scoring punch for Miami, especially when the 3-point shots don’t fall.
Adebayo should continue using his athleticism against Jokic. Spoelstra should ensure Adebayo is on the court at all times Jokic is playing. And he should try out Kevin Love as the backup five. He at least can provide some shooting that the Nuggets will have to respect. As John Hollinger tweeted during Game 1, “Zeller is being guarded as if he’s radioactive.”
And Adrian Wojnarowski said that Tyler Herro was pushing for a return in Game 2. Though the Heat have made it to the Finals without him, Miami could’ve used his scoring several times — including Thursday night — during this playoff run.