On Wednesday we have a massive, tremendous game. With a piece of this Final, suddenly wide open, at stake. Because, after an amazing 108-111, the series for the ring is tied (1-1) to South Florida, land of miracles in these playoffs. Of the Mile Highmore than 1,600 meters above sea level, at the foot of the sun and the beach: Heat, the heat. Heat, the scythe. The team that never gives up, the one with a thousand lives. An incredible story that he demonstrated in the Rockies that does not play to inspire narratives or propitiate morals. Play to be NBA champion. And he’s three wins away from doing it.. Like suddenly bruised Nuggets. That is why Wednesday will be, yes, a massive, tremendous match, with a piece of this Final at stake.
Because so far we have seen two completely different accounts. So we don’t know if the reality is the placidity with which the Denver Nuggets led to 1-0 or the torn brilliance, a kind of dark light, with which the Miami Heat made it 1-1 by way of strangulation. Because the second game, exciting, was a clamp on the arteries of some Nuggets who, or so it seemed, looked as favorites as many of us felt from the outside. It was a judo key to certainties. We don’t know if it was a slap to reality… or an open door (kicked in) to other reality. The real one, the one that the Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks and Boston Celtics didn’t understand either until it was too late. Now we don’t know how much, but we do know that there is Final. Wow yes. And that, after the warm sensations of the game 1It is exceptional news. The thermostat has blown up.
Another blow to Miami Heat history
never a seeds 8, the last seat for the heats, had been so close to a ring. Because never a seeds 8 had racked up 13 playoff victories nor had they won a Finals game away from home. The Miami Heat have done all of that with seven comebacks in games they’ve trailed by more than 10 points. That equals the top of the last 25 years, a brand now shared with the Warriors of last year (champions) and two other versions of their brand, the heat culture: 2011 and 2012. The game was a Picasso by Erik Spoelstra, a lesson in settings and chess with barbed wire. But he wouldn’t have settled without one, other, tremendous night for the Heat from the line of three: 17/35, almost 49% and six more (11/28) than the Nuggets, who had not lost in the playoffs (9-1 now) and had not fallen on their track in total since March 30. In that game, against the Pelicans, Nikola Jokic did not play. The last loss at home to the Denver Nuggets with the Serbian on track dated back… to March 12. The Miami Heat, who strictly complied with their escape plan, are well aware of the difference in altitude, that suffocating field advantage of a Ball Arena in which he had not won since November 2016. She has done it in day D.
Now Spoelstra will almost certainly get Tyler Herro back for Game 3. It will add more than 20 points and a lot of generation to a mold that worked perfectly in this second game: Kevin Love starter, return to big quintet without a blurred and sick Caleb Martin. Circulation, constant cuts, released shots… and a gigantic defensive effort, maximum pressure with alternating individual defenses and zones, almost endless variations In order not to let the Nuggets pick up the pace, put on autopilot. The only visible problem was Cody Zeller’s minutes, which will have to be kept to a minimum even if he is the only viable substitute (by size) against Jokic. The rest worked, with very few points near the basket but scorching efficiency in the triples. At that rate of success, the Heat have a very real chance of being champions. The bad news is that it is very difficult to repeat nights like this. The good news… they’ve been doing it throughout the playoffs.
The work on Jokic was fascinating, a dance of assists piling up bodies without allowing free shots on the normally deadly passes from the Serb, who was the only argument for the Nuggets in a second half in which he scored 28 points. 18 in an epic third quarter in which he held his team on the scoreboard (83-75) despite the fact that the sensations were increasingly worrying. The only local outburst had come between the first quarter and the second, when a 10-21 with an impeccable visitor presentation became a 50-35 that threatened break before the break. There the Heat, precise with the starting five and disastrous in the change dance, survived (57-51 at halftime) and gave themselves the opportunity to reach a last quarter alive to remember: 25-36 with a tremendous 12- 32 in the first 8 and a half minutes (95-107). A desperate blow from the Nuggets, with two triples by Jamal Murray, sent the game to 108-111 that no longer moved in the final two attacks. First he did not sentence Jimmy Butler, then Michael Malone did not call a timeout and, finally, Murray created enough space for himself to launch a difficult three-pointer but one that he has scored many times. Not this one: 1-1.
A bad night for Porter Jr, KCP, Murray…
Jokic finished with 41 points and 11 rebounds, an exciting exercise in stamina between shots of all kinds. With his back and facing the hoop; outside, inside and in transition, coast to coast. Anything it takes to sustain a blinded team, without circulation or ideas, deconcentrated for many minutes and pushed by the momentum of the second unit (Jeff Green, Bruce Brown, rookie Christian Braun). Of the non-Jokic starters, nothing. Very little, until that final push, from Murray for the level of the game (18 points, 10 assists); defense with little attack from Aaron Gordon and some terrible gaps from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and an absent Michael Porter Jr and that in the two games he accumulates a 3/17 in triples.
This version of the Denver Nuggets is human, beatable. But it is that Miami Heat manages to make all their rivals seem human, beatable. Jokic stayed at 4 assists (only one in the second half) for 5 turnovers, a transcendental fact because that is the formula: to win battles and perhaps the war, especially with the Serb at such a level of physical demand. Of his 14 assists, 2 losses and 12 field goals on Thursday, playing with a tailcoat, at 4, 5 and 28. And a -11 on the track. There is the Achilles heel of the Nuggets: in the playoffs, 0-3 if Jokic reaches 40 points and 13-1 if he stays below. Can you find that weak point and shake it like a mat three more games? If there is a capable team, it is the Miami Heat.
adebayo he killed himself in defense and ended up reading the attack well after a bad start (21 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists). Butler tiptoed through more than half a game but scored 8 heavyweight points in the fourth quarter (21 total). Max Strus signed a 4/7 triple in the first set after his 0/9 72 hours earlier, Duncan Robinson got his 10 points at the critical moment in the last set and Gabe Vincent was a constant source of points, a punishment for every defensive oversight by the Nuggets: 23 with a 4/6 3-pointer. The 2023 Finals are going to Miami. Surely Herro will return. Maybe a Martin who has played sick the first two games will improve. Spoelstra has taken the initiative from the benches and Butler has two more days to find his heroic form, which has not yet appeared. It’s all good news for the Heat, all of a sudden. And for a Final that has entered a wonderful state of uncertainty. whatWhat is the reality? On Wednesday we will have an important piece of the answer. And, perhaps, the fate of this 2022-23 season.