The Miami Heat ensured the NBA Championship Finals would be a series to watch as they refused to roll over for the Denver Nuggets Sunday.
Following the Nuggets’ domination in Game 1 many expected the series to be a sweep for Denver, but the Heat bounced back to clinch a 111-108 win.
But it wasn’t an easy task. The visitors had to dig deep to overcome a monster effort from Nikola Jokic.
The Joker wasn’t joking around at Ball Arena as he recorded a massive 41 points. But even that wasn’t enough.
Miami had a big early lead, then got down by as many as 15 before reclaiming the lead in the fourth.
The Miami Heat ensured the NBA Championship Finals would be a series to watch Sunday
The Heat bounced back to clinch a 111-108 win to level the series heading back to Miami
Miami had to overcome Nikola Jokic’s monster effort for 41 points for the Nuggets
The Heat wasn’t letting Denver tear away from it again though and it outscored its rivals 36-25 in the final period, erasing an eight-point deficit going into the final frame.
Even then, Jimmy Butler and Co. had to dig deep.
If being written off before Game 2 had affected the Heat they didn’t show it on the court and Gabe Vincent brushed off the underdog status once again following the matchup.
When asked if it bothered him that Denver was considered the favorite, Vincent immediately hit back saying: ‘I speak for my whole team when I say we don’t give a damn. We just want to get four wins.’
Vincent scored 23 points, Butler and Bam Adebayo each had 21, while Max Strus and Duncan Robinson chipped in with 14 and 10 points respectively.
Jokic was 16 of 28 from the floor, the last of those shots a 4-footer with 36 seconds left to get the Nuggets within three.
Denver elected not to foul on the ensuing Miami possession. Butler missed a three, and with a chance to tie, Jamal Murray missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Murray had 18 points and 10 assists for Denver, while Aaron Gordon had 12 points and Bruce Brown scored 11.
Gabe Vincent brushed off Miami’s status as the underdog, claiming he didn’t ‘give a damn’
Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo (pictured right) each had 21 points in the victory
‘They just played hard, and like I said, it was more discipline,’ Murray said. ‘It´s defeating when you´re giving up mistake after mistake, and it´s not them beating you, you´re giving them open dunks or open shots. That´s tough to come back from.’
Game 3 is Wednesday in Miami. Denver had been 11-0 with a double-digit lead in the playoffs.
And, just as he did after a Game 1 win, Nuggets coach Michael Malone sounded the alarm after a Game 2 loss.
‘Let´s talk about effort,’ Malone said. ‘I mean, this is the NBA Finals and we´re talking about effort. That´s a huge concern of mine.
‘You guys probably thought I was just making up some storyline after Game 1 when I said we didn’t play well. We didn’t play well. … This is not the preseason. This is not the regular season. This is the NBA Finals.’
Strus, who was 0 for 10 in Game 1, had four 3-pointers in the first quarter of Game 2. Butler made a jumper with 4:56 left in the opening quarter to put Miami up 21-10, tying the second-biggest lead any opponent had built in Denver so far in these playoffs.
The visitors outscored the hosting Denver Nuggets 36-25 in the final period
Jamal Murray had five straight points to end a flurry but missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer
In a flash, it was gone – and then some.
The Nuggets outscored Miami 32-11 over the next 9 minutes, turning the double-digit deficit into a double-digit lead thanks to an absolute 3-point barrage.
In a 70-second span early in the second quarter, Denver got four 3s – more points than Miami got in that entire 9-minute stretch – and they came from four different players: Bruce Brown, then Jeff Green, then Murray, then Gordon.
Boom, boom, boom, and boom. Murray had five straight points to end the flurry, and Denver led 44-32 when it was over. The Heat managed to close the gap to 57-51 by the half, but whatever good feeling Miami had after the opening minutes was long gone.
From there, the fight was on. Miami didn´t let Denver get away – then found a way in the fourth.