We have ourselves a series.
The Denver Nuggets fell narrowly, 111-108, in Game 2 of the NBA Finals. This was Denver’s first loss at home throughout the entirety of the 2023 playoffs. The NBA Finals now sits at 1-1 heading into Miami where the HEAT are 6-2 in the postseason.
Miami outscored Denver 36-25 in the fourth quarter. Head coach Michael Malone was blunt about his team's performance after the game.
"Let's talk about effort. I mean, this is NBA Finals. We're talking about effort. That's a huge concern of mine," said Malone. "This is not the preseason. It's not the regular season. This is the NBA Finals. And that, to me, is really really perplexing. Disappointing. I asked the team. I said, 'You guys tell me why we lost?' And they knew the answer. Miami came in here and outworked us."
Nikola Jokić led the show for Denver with 41 rebounds and 11 assists. He only had 4 assists, his fewest during Denver's entire playoff run.
Jamal Murray also had a double-double with 18 points and 10 assists.
Gabe Vincent led Miami with 23 points, and three of the HEAT's starters (Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo being the other two) finished with more than 20 points.
The story of the game was three-point shooting. Miami shot a blistering 48.6 percent from deep and made 17 threes. This was Miami's seventh game shooting over 48 percent from deep in the playoffs out of their 20 total games played. Many of Miami's three-point looks occurred when Denver botched switches and miscommunicated.
"Today, we had a lot of miscommunication and misunderstandings. They were getting open looks, especially at the beginning of the game," said Jokić about Denver's defense. "And they had a couple at the end of the game, too. So we just need to know where to be, what to do, what the coverage, or whatever."
Denver scored more points in the paint, winning 48-34, and shot 10.8 percentage points better from two-point range. But they just couldn't overcome the difference from three despite making 39.3 percent of their long-range looks themselves.
Miami immediately leaped out a 10-2 lead behind two three-pointers from Max Strus. Jokić came out aggressive for Denver and put up 11 points over the top of Miami’s defense, and he also dished a gorgeous alley-oop pass to Aaron Gordon. Behind their superhuman center, Denver finished the first quarter down just 26-23.
Denver’s reserves came in and busted open the game. Rookie Christian Braun's energy was infectious, and he immediately ripped away 2 steals and put up 4 points. Jeff Green then hit a three-pointer to give Denver a 33-29 lead. Two more three-pointers from Bruce Brown and Aaron Gordon, as well as a ferocious dunk from Murray over the top of Strus in transition, gave Denver its first double-digit lead. Miami did an excellent job closing the gap and finished the half behind, 57-51.
Miami opened the half with three-straight three-pointers to make it a 2-point game, forcing a timeout from Malone at the 9:21 mark in the third quarter. The game became a bit of a slog, as both teams combined for just 11 points in 4 full minutes of play. Jokić then decided it was takeover time and poured in 10 points in the final 5 minutes of play. This gave Denver the 83-75 lead heading into the fourth.
Duncan Robinson checked in to start the fourth and promptly hit two threes, one of them a tightly contested pull-up jumper, as well as two finishes at the rim. This gave Miami an 88-85 lead after a 13-2 run. Jokić kept the team on his back and reached 37 points by the 5:48 mark in the fourth, but the HEAT kept extending their lead to 9 points with just over four minutes remaining.
A layup got Murray going, and he promptly hit two more three-pointers to make it a 3-point game. Denver was forced to foul Adebayo on a slip to the rim, and he hit two free-throws to make it a 5-point game. The Nuggets had one last chance after Jokic made a floater over the top of Vincent. After Denver got a stop, Murray pushed the ball up to court, sized up Butler, and took a stepback three... that just narrowly missed. Ballgame.