The Miami Heat are three victories away from an unlikely NBA title, a run that includes taking down the Milwaukee Bucks, the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference.
The eighth-seeded Heat now have an opportunity to take a 2-1 series lead over the best team in the West when they host the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night in Game 3 of the best-of-seven NBA Finals.
Miami took home-court advantage away from the Nuggets with a solid 111-108 win in Denver in Game 2 on Sunday. The Heat overcame a 15-point deficit to hand the Nuggets a home loss for the first time in 10 games this postseason.
Miami now sits in a highly favorable position with Game 4 also in South Florida. If the underdog Heat hold serve, they can return to Denver for Game 5 in position to clinch the series.
Surprise Finals star Gabe Vincent of the Heat just wants to focus on Game 3 and not look too far ahead.
“It’s going to be a different game entirely,” Vincent said. “I think every game will be different this series, especially, and it will be great to be back home to start with, be back in front of our fans, it will be an awesome environment, great experience. It’s going to be a battle. They are going to bring everything they got and we’d better do the same.”
Vincent is averaging 21 points in the series and has knocked down 9 of 16 total 3-point attempts. The undrafted player from UC Santa Barbara has scored in double digits in each of his last six playoff appearances.
“He’s just an incredible winning player,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Vincent, who joined Miami during the 2019-20 season. “This year, he’s been a starter for us. He’s been great. He’s off the bench, he’s been great. He’s like a lot of our guys, the competitive spirit. You get challenged like we’re getting challenged in this series, you hope it brings out the best in you. And that’s what it’s doing with him.”
Denver coach Michael Malone didn’t see the best version of his players in Game 2 and was disappointed with the effort. He wasn’t shy about verbalizing it, either.
“This is not the preseason, this is not the regular season,” Malone said. “This is the NBA Finals. That to me is really, really perplexing, disappointing. I asked the team, I asked them, you guys tell me why they lost, and they knew the answer. Miami came in here and outworked us.”
Said veteran Nuggets forward Jeff Green: “It’s the (bleeping) Finals, man. Our energy has to be better. We can’t come out like we did, and we have to be better.”
Two-time MVP Nikola Jokic poured in 41 points for Denver. The Nuggets had a chance to force overtime but Jamal Murray’s shot was off the rim as time expired. Murray termed the shot as a “good look.”
What didn’t look so good to Murray was the effort of his team. The Nuggets won the opener 104-93 before losing on their home floor for the first time this postseason.
“We can’t play like that, so if we play away, home, on the road, doesn’t matter,” said Murray, who had 18 points and 10 assists. “We’ve got to have a better showing.”
The Heat earned a split in the mile-high altitude of Denver despite a pedestrian start to the series for Jimmy Butler.
Butler scored just 13 points in the opener before contributing 21 points and nine assists in Game 2. But he is shooting just 39.4 percent from the field (13-of-33) and has attempted just five free throws.
Butler, who scored a franchise playoff-record 56 points during Game 4 of the Milwaukee series, isn’t concerned about his 17.0 scoring average against the Nuggets.
“We’re not worried about what anybody thinks,” Butler said. “We’re so focused in on what we do well and who we are as a group that at the end of the day, that’s what we fall back on.”
Heat guard Tyler Herro, who broke his right hand on April 16, was ruled out for Game 3. He practiced on Tuesday and is moving closer to a return.
–Field Level Media