2023 NBA Finals

For Heat, familiar challenge of navigating rocky road awaits

Miami isn't hanging its head after falling in Game 1 of the Finals.

After losing Game 1 to the Denver Nuggets, can the Miami Heat bounce back with some adjustments?

DENVER (AP) — Udonis Haslem has been through almost everything in his 20 seasons with the Miami Heat. On that list: Game 1 losses in the NBA Finals.

He’s seen lots of those — six of them, actually, in seven tries during his Heat career. Being down 1-0 in the Finals against the Denver Nuggets is not optimal, but Haslem knows it doesn’t doom Miami’s chances, either. All three of his championship rings came in series where the Heat lost a finals opener.

And that will be the message for three days, all the way until tip-off of Game 2 on Sunday night.

“It can be done,” Haslem said.

He’s right. And by now, the Heat have just come to expect that nothing they want will come easily.

Virtually the entire season has been topsy-turvy for the Heat, and evidently, the jagged path is the one they’re going to take all the way to the end. A 104-93 loss in Game 1 on Thursday night came when Miami shot poorly, struggled big-time from 3-point range until a late flurry and shot only two free throws — the fewest, the NBA said, by any team in any of the 4,359 games in league postseason history.

The Heat's lack of shot-making and Nikola Jokic's comfortable dominance need to change in Game 2 in order for Miami to stay in this series.

“That’s how we’ve been all year,” said Heat guard Max Strus, who went 0 for 10 from the field — 0 for 9 from 3-point range — in Game 1. “We’re battle-tested. We’ve been through a lot of down moments this year. So, we know how to deal with it and we’ll be ready.”

The list of adverse moments the Heat have endured this season is lengthy, to say the least.

They didn’t get over the .500 mark for the first time until about a week before Christmas. They sputtered for much of the year, never able to put a long string of wins together. There have been 45 different winning streaks of at least five games in the NBA this season, by 21 different teams — and the Heat weren’t one of them. They lost a Play-In game to Atlanta, trailed in the elimination Play-In game late against Chicago, nearly blew a 3-0 lead against Boston in the East Final … and keep finding ways to make it right.

“That’s just how our path has been,” said Caleb Martin, who was 1 for 7 in Game 1. “That’s everybody’s comfort zone. We’re never worried in situations like this. People might be saying it’s going to be tough or whatever the case may be, but we don’t think like that. We’re going to be ready.”

There will also be a history lesson before Sunday night. Haslem will certainly be among the professors.

In the 2006 Finals, Miami lost the first two games in Dallas, woke up after Game 2 to learn that city was already planning the parade and won the next four games. In 2012, Miami lost Game 1 in Oklahoma City by 11 points — just like Thursday’s margin — and won the next four games. And in 2013, Miami rallied after a Game 1 loss to beat San Antonio in a seven-game classic, the series that was highlighted by Ray Allen’s game-tying and season-saving 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left in Game 6.

Like Haslem was saying, it can be done.

“I feel like we’ll bounce back,” said center Bam Adebayo, who led the Heat with 26 points and 13 rebounds in Game 1.

Bam Adebayo and Haywood Highsmith talk with the media following the Heat's loss to the Nuggets.

It’s unlikely that Miami only gets to the line two times in Game 2. It’s unlikely that Strus will go 0 for 10 again Sunday. It’s unlikely that Jimmy Butler will score only 13 points again in Game 2; that’s what he had in Game 1, or 15 points below his average for the playoffs coming into the finals.

“I think whenever we watch this film, it’s going to look way worse than it really is,” Butler said. “But that’s the only way you’re going to learn from it.”

Even if all those offensive numbers rise, it still doesn’t guarantee anything. Denver will make adjustments as well, just like Miami.

But if this adverse season has taught Miami anything, it’s that they’re comfortable while in trouble.

“That’s what you expect,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You don’t expect it to be easy when you get to this final round. This is a great challenge. It’s going to require more. We will get to work and see what we can do better, what we can do harder, what we can do with more effort, what we can do with more focus, etc.”