Coup’s Takeaways: Nuggets Earn Their Title The Hard As HEAT Grind Their Way To One Last Clutch Game

1. An exceptionally weird start to this one. Extremely physical play. Missed shots galore. Denver turning the ball over a ton. Aaron Gordon and Nikola Jokic both in foul trouble. DeAndre Jordan minutes.

Basically, a perfect situation for the HEAT, a team that thrives in the weird and strange. They certainly earned the off-kilter nature of those first two quarters, mucking up the game about as well as you possible can, and Bam Adebayo took advantage between the lines, attacking early and going after every mismatch in front of him on his way to 18 first-half points on 13 shots. Still, the lead at the break was just seven for Miami – they trailed by eight early on after missing eight shots in a row – despite all of Denver’s struggles, including 1-of-15 from three and 3-of-8 from the free-throw line. A good, earned lead, but a tenuous one with Miami not as much finding answers as finding a way to contort the game to their own terms.

Six minutes into the third, as Jamal Murray hit Denver’s second three of the night after a 1-of-17 start overall, it was tied. Still a mess of a game, though, and as Denver missed another couple of threes the HEAT ground-and-pounded their way back to a four-point advantage. Miami by one after three after Denver briefly took a lead, Kyle Lowry hitting his third triple after an offensive board, but anyone who would tell you how the fourth was about to go, a title and a season on the line, is lying. There was nothing available with which to make any real predictions, not with rocks covered in mud being desperately slung around with Denver missing their jumpers and Miami hovering below 40 percent from the field.

Quick 5-0 burst to open the quarter for Denver, their fourth three falling in 24 attempts, and after nobody scored for seemingly five minutes after that outside of another Lowry three, Denver led by five, a title on the line for one side, a season on the line for the other, with six to play. Good time for Jimmy Butler, having a rough shooting night to that point, to come alive, hitting two straight threes, getting fouled on another, and working his way into the paint for four more as Miami jumped out by one. But Denver, resilient as ever, led by three after a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope steal, 24 seconds left in Miami’s season. The next shot, another Butler attempt from three, bounces off, and that was that, 94-89. The Nuggets earned their title the hard way in this one, you have to give them that, and the HEAT clawed their way to the bitter end.

2. Fitting that the season ended with another clutch game, a record 45thgame to be decided by five-points or less. Fitting that it was maybe the ugliest game of the season, pure competition as some might call it, with bodies flying and every point a struggle. This is what playoff basketball used to look like, in some ways, and Miami’s guys probably wouldn’t have had it any other way. As strong a start as Adebayo (20 points on 20 shots) had, as much as Butler (21 points) almost saved the night with his late flurry, nobody looked more at home than Lowry – 12 points not nearly representative of his impact) big shots and big plays coming out of him like a slot machine. Without him pulling and pulling and pulling, Denver probably walks to their title.

No shame in losing this way, to a team as tough and talented as Denver, painful as it may be. It’s been an incredible ride for the HEAT, with memories formed that nobody will soon let go of, This is a tell your grandkids sort of run, and it didn’t end because Miami ran out of gas or magic or anything like that. They earned their right to play for the trophy by beating talented teams, and in the end they got beat, fair and square – and in many ways, on their own terms, in the mud.

3. Speaking of, Denver should have earned your respect, if not by now then on this rough and tumble night when nothing was going right for them – becoming the first team ever to win a Finals game while shooting sub-20 percent from three on at least 25 attempts. For all of what Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic – Finals MVP winner – did throughout this series, for all of what their role players did in stepping up to the moment, what will linger about them is their toughness. Miami has hit hard and hit fast all postseason, knocking other teams off their rhythm and pushing right through their stumbles, but Denver took every blow in stride, winning every which way the HEAT forced them to win. Teams that play the beautiful game sometimes have to win the other way, and the Nuggets did everything they needed to. 

Hell of season for Miami, folks, with plenty to talk about in the coming days, weeks, months and years. They met their match in this series, but that doesn’t diminish what they did and who they were for these two wonderful, zany, unbelievable months.