NBA Finals Check In

    After a heartbreaking game-two loss on their home floor, the first of the 2023 postseason, the Denver Nuggets needed a gut check. Head Coach Michael Malone questioned their effort. Jeff Green wondered aloud where the urgency and intensity were during an NBA Finals game. It was the first time in the playoffs that Denver headed on the road in a tied series. Denver has passed every test.

    NBA Finals guide: Where to watch Nuggets vs. Heat, game scores and more

    Photo Cred: The Coloradoan

    Two of their most complete performances of the season resulted in two double-digit road wins; the Nuggets head home for game five with a chance to secure their first NBA Title in franchise history. The same question that clouded Denver coming into Miami for game three has now shifted to the underdog Heat as they head back to the Mile High City: how do they respond? As Jimmy Butler said, “My mindset is to win; we must. We have no other choice.”

    Things are easier said than done, and no different here. The Heat knows the assignment, and finding a way to win has become arguably their best quality throughout their adversity-filled season. That brings up a new question. How can the Heat beat a Nuggets team that, apart from a disastrous fourth quarter in game two, has looked like the better team over the first four games?

    In game two wins, the Heat scorched the Nets, shooting 17-for-35 from downtown. Their percentage plummets by about 15 percent, and they are just 32-for-99 in the losses. Deep shooting played a part, but the Heat has more obstacles in front of them than that if they want to take three games in a row off the red-hot Nuggets.

    Miami Heat vs. Denver Nuggets: NBA Finals Game 4 Live Stream, TV Channel,  Start Time | 6/9/2023 - How to Watch and Stream Major League & College  Sports - Sports Illustrated.

    Photo Cred: SI

    Like most things with this Miami team, it starts on the defensive end. Denver has a 120.2 offensive rating during the finals, a mark that would have led the league during the regular season. The games have been low-scoring, and Miami has done an excellent job of slowing the pace down and keeping the Nuggets out of transition. Miami has picked up ball handlers full court, made a concerted effort to get back from misses, and avoided live ball turnovers, keeping Denver mostly in the half-court.

    Denver has found themselves in the mud a few times, but they have had their way offensively for the most part, generating paint touches and efficient looks. In game three, as it is so many times for the Nuggets, it was the Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray show. The two Nuggets stars combined for 66 points, 31 rebounds, and 20 assists, becoming the first pair of teammates in NBA history, regular season or playoffs, to each record 30-point triple-doubles in the same game.

    Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray shoot 3-pointers to fend off Heat

    Photo Cred: The Denver Post

    Murray and Jokic generated almost all of Denver’s game-three offense, regaining control of the series. In game four, however, head coach Erik Spoelstra and the Heat had a better plan for Denver’s dynamic duo. They constantly trapped Murray off screens, forcing him to give the ball up and making other guys beat them. They swarmed Jokic when he got position on the low block, and the big man still knocked down his fair share of jumpers.

    He looked more uncomfortable than usual in the post, with Bam Adebayo bodying him up and the active hands of the Miami guards constantly in his face. Jokic still finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds and had an excellent game on defense. But he shot under 50 percent and battled foul trouble throughout the fourth quarter.

    Murray had an outstanding outing as a playmaker, notching 12 assists without a turnover, but had a miserable shooting night. For the most part, the Heats plan worked. They made the Nugget’s role players beat them. Aaron Gordon had a career night with 27 points, seven rebounds, and six assists on an efficient 11-for-15 shooting. Bruce Brown took over the fourth quarter and finished with 21 points on 8-for-11. So how does Miami fight back? Defensively, they must eliminate the number of paint touches the Nuggets are getting, but defending the Nuggets is nearly impossible for a small team like the Heat.

    miami heat: Miami Heat vs Denver Nuggets at NBA finals Game 2: See why  stakes are high for tonight's game - The Economic Times

    Photo Cred: The Economic Times

    The tangible improvements are going to have to come offensively. First, Gabe Vincent needs to get back on track. After a remarkable playoff run and two standout performances in games one and two in Denver, Vincent scored just nine total points; and shot 3-for-16 in the two games in South Beach. Kyle Lowry replaced him in the second half of game four. His ability to be a second on-ball creator next to Jimmy Butler has been crucial for the Heat offense in the absence of Tyler Herro due to injury.

    Another thing that Miami can do is get uncomfortable and push the pace a little bit. The Heat love to muck up games and slow the pace down to a halt and it has worked for them up to this point. However, Denver executes with such precision in the half-court that they can still beat Miami in a slow-paced game. If the Heat look to run in transition and get some easy baskets, they can speed the Nuggets up and will be less reliant on their three-point shooting.

    Miami will also have to knock down some of the shots they are getting. They had plenty of layups and short jumpers in games three and four, especially Butler and Adebayo, which missed. The duo needs to make easy looks that will take a lot of pressure off the Heat defense and their role players.

    Summary & Highlights: Denver Nuggets 109-94 Miami Heat in Game 3 NBA Finals  2023 | 06/08/2023 - VAVEL USA

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    The Heat will need at least one “Playoff Jimmy” game. The Heat has had a historic run, with Butler taking over games four and five in their first-round win over Milwaukee. Butler had 98 points, marking one of the best two-game stretches in playoff history. Butler has been solid in this series, and his workload on both ends as the primary creator and the primary defender on Murray is taking a toll. He is still playing on a bum ankle after injuring it multiple times throughout the postseason. Miami has had an unbelievable run to get to this point, but now they face their toughest test.

    Troy Finnegan
    Troy Finnegan
    My name is Troy Finnegan and I am a senior studying journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder. I am originally from Broomfield, CO and love to ski, hike, and play golf in my free time. The sports I will be covering are football, basketball, baseball, tennis, and golf.

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