What about Butler’s ankle?

Miami Heat heist the court factor of the 2023 NBA Finals in the second game… and lost it in the third, just 72 hours later, in the first game of the series in South Florida. And the worst thing was not the 2-1 for the Nuggets, nor the defeat in a game that in these circumstances (third in the series with 1-1 before the initial jump) gives the title to which 80% of the wins win. times. With all the bad news that mathematics brought to those of Erik Spoelstra, the worst were the sensations.

The Nuggets were superior and retook control of a Final in which they have had advantages of more than 20 points in their two victories and +15 in defeat, a game in which they made many mistakes and, even so, they led eight points into the fourth quarter and had a three-pointer from Jamal Murray to force overtime. They’re not even needing particularly good performances from 3-point range to get their wins: 8/27 in the first and 5/18 in the third. Only 13 between the two parties, in both cases below 30%. Nor has an optimal version of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope yet appeared, nor a simply correct version of a completely blurred Michael Porter Jr. The Nuggets have a margin of error the Heat don’t even dream of. And to two players, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, who don’t seem willing to let their great opportunity pass. His first great opportunity.

An abysmal difference in the zones

He size is also a factor: the Nuggets are bigger, stronger, more physical. The rebound was a pure domination (33-58) in a third game in which it was clear that the Heat depend on the triple, and hovering around 45% with a high volume of shots to have options. because the area is closed, sealed by the centimeters of those of Colorado. That they also did a much better job when it came to avoiding shots released by the Heat: 71.4% of the triples that Spoelstra’s men took (11/35 final) came with a defender glued to the shooter

The point difference in the paint ended at 34-60. The +26 is the third best mark for the Nuggets all season. The -26 is the fourth worst of the Heat. An overwhelming fact in which it is surprising, a matter of efficiency, that the number of shots in that delimitation was similar: 30/48 for the Nuggets, a terrible 17/46 for the Heat, who made exactly the same number (17/46) in shots out of paint. That 37% in normally high-percentage areas is one of the worst data of any team in the entire course. AND second worst in playoffs. Worst? Also the Heat: in the sixth game of the Eastern final, the one with Derrick White’s miraculous basket, against the Celtics (16/52, 30.8%). In the momentous third game against the Nuggets, Jimmy Butler was 6/16 in the paint and Bam Adebayo was 5/16.

Butler accepted defeat with complaints about the lack of energy that had weighed them down on a crucial day: “I don’t know what happened. Perhaps we thought we were on our track, that we had already got somethingI don’t know. It can’t happen again, and I’m talking first of all about myself. it won’t happen again. I have to be more effective in defense, I have to win split balls… if I do that, the others follow my example. In the fourth game you have to put more energy, more effort. It’s something we can correct, it’s up to us as a group. It’s not something blackboard of Xs and Os. Go out and play, throw yourself for the balls, grab rebounds… maybe then the game would have been different”.

Jimmy Butler does not reach his best version

Butler is self-critical, and talks about things the Heat can change in the less than 48 hours that separate, the shortest break of the Finals, the closing of the third game and the start of the fourth (tonight, 02:30 Spanish time). A point in the series that the Heat have to take as a match point. They cannot afford to go back to Colorado with a 3-1 down and the obligation to win three straight games, two in the Mile High, the more than 1,600 meters of altitude of Denver. Besides, the cavalry still does not arrive on time: Tyler Herro is in principle also ruled out for this fourth game. The escort was going to return, it was supposed, in the third, but the permission follows full of the doctors after the broken hand he suffered at the start of the playoffs, against the Milwaukee Bucks. He hasn’t played since.

But there is an ominous shadow that lingers over the Heat’s franchise player, who is not at his best level, the one that makes him working class superhero, one of the most competitive players in the NBA and one who is especially easy to empathize with. This probably it has to do with an ankle injury that we will surely hear about when the Finals are over. then we will know how depleted The Texan forward has played. For now, he doesn’t want to use it as an excuse: “It doesn’t matter, nobody cares. In the end, what is expected of me is to play at the highest possible level at a time like this.”

After stumbling through the play in (defeat against the Hawks at home, very hard-fought victory against the Bulls also at home), the Heat reached the playoffs as eighth, and the first led to one of the biggest surprises in recent years: 4-1 against some Bucks that had been the best team in the normal season and they were the favorite to win the title that they already won in 2021. In that series, Butler played at an extraordinary level, special: 3Average 7.6 points, 6 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 59% total shots, 44% 3-pointers and almost two steals per night. To remember, especially, the fourth game in which he finished with 56 points, 9 rebounds, 68% shooting (19/28), the fourth highest score ever in the playoffs and the record for the Heat in playoffs in both a first quarter (22 points) as in the last (21).

But the premiere of the Eastern semifinal, against the Knicks in Madison, brought a high price for Spoelstra’s men: in the middle of the last quarter, Butler hurt his ankle in an action in which he was being defended by Josh Hart. He finished that first game, visibly diminished, and did not play the second. He returned in the third and since then he has played everything, but he has not been the same. He has had brilliant moments, certainly stretches of battle and leadership, but without reaching his level super. The truly decisive. Against the Celtics, in the Eastern final (he was MVP), he averaged 24.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.1 assists. ANDIn the Finals it is at 20.7, 4.3 and 6.7. With a poor 42% shooting. In it game 1 he stayed at 13 points with 14 shots. In the second duel, at 21 with 19 and in the third, at 28 with 24. In total, 57 shots for 62 points. He accumulates only one steal, none in the last two games. And the sensations make it clear that he is not 100%, with sections without that incidence in the game that is house brandNot very aggressive for what he is used to at times like this and with too many missed shots because they fall short: a matter of legs.

In six playoff games (if we count the one with the injury, which was in its final stretch) before the mishap with Hart, he averaged 35.5 points on 59% shooting and 43% 3-pointers. In the subsequent 13 he is at 23.5 with 42% and 32%. In them, she has only exceeded the 30-point barrier once (in the first of the Eastern final, in Boston). Worse still, since the 0-2 loss against the Celtics and the Heat’s epic back-to-back wins in the Garden, he has played eight games and has stayed at 20.7 points with 39% in total shots. His lack of explosiveness is obvious.: Before the injury he scored on his penetrations with 59% efficiency and after, with 45%. In trays it has gone from almost 68% to move below 44%. On suspensions outside the paint, the adjustment of the effective filed goal percentage (eFG%, a weighting that assesses whether the shots are two or three) has dropped from 58.8% to 39.3%.

A very relevant fact: since the third game against the Knicks, when he returned after his loss in the second of the series, the Heat have a net rating negative (-0.2) in the 558 minutes that he has played and positive (+9.1) in the 162 that he has rested. In the Finals, the difference is radical: -10.2 in his 119 minutes, +14.7 in the 25 he has spent sitting down. It is obvious that Butler arrives as far as it canhe works hard and continues to have moments in which he shows that he is one of the best players in the NBA when really You have to win games. But he’s not at his best, and You can’t compare right now in the franchise player fight with an enlightened, unstoppable Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets also clearly dominate there, and of course the state of Butler’s ankle has to be a factor. And not small.

Butler will try again tonight, as far as the forces go. At 33, he has to hold on to such an opportunity in his second Finals since arriving in Miami in 2019, through a sign and trade that took him out of Philadelphia with a four-year contract and 142 million that in 2021 the Heat, happy, extended for another four and 184 million more dollars. In the 2010 Finals, in the bubble, the Heat (with serious injury problems) couldn’t stop an armored Lakers. But Butler played at an exciting level: 26.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 9.8 assists, 2.2 steals. An anthological third game (40+11+13) and an extraordinary fifth (35+12+11+5 steals). The sixth player in history, at that time, with more than one triple-double in a title series. And the second player, also together with LeBron (2016 version) who led his team in a Final in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. That Butler, playoff jimmy, is the one the Heat need, the one that raises the roof of a touched team to infinity… but not sunk. If you win tonight…

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