The Heat were outworked, out-hustled, and out-essentially everything on the floor.
But there were two things they had that the Denver Nuggets had no answer for in the Heat’s 119-116 victory: a dual-threat center and the best three-point shooter to ever play the game.
Denver led the contest throughout, but a Heat rally that was capped off by a four-point play by Ray Allen gave the team a three-point lead that was enough to stave off the Nuggets for the final four seconds. The Heat had been down 116-115 heading into the final offensive possession following an Andre Iguodala make, but it was a LeBron kick-out to Allen in the left corner–the same corner he shot 57 percent from last year–for the basket and the foul.
Allen finished with 23 points and shot 6-of-10 from beyond the arc in 29 minutes off the bench. The man who had the game-winning assist, LeBron James, ended with 20 points, 11 assists, nine rebounds and two blocks in 39 minutes.
Before the Heat were fulfilled with the jubilation from their newcomer hitting a huge shot, they were also a miss away from seriously reconsidering their defensive schemes and rotations. Denver outrebounded the Heat 47-32, 18-7 on the offensive glass, shot 52 percent from the field and outscored the Heat an astounding 72-40 in the paint and had 66 points by the half.
The Heat made a conscious effort at not allowing three-pointers–Denver only converted five–after Friday’s shootaround with the New York Knicks, but couldn’t make a stop inside throughout the night. Kenneth Faried had 12 rebounds, seven on the offensive glass, and JaVale McGee needed only 23 minutes to finish with 16 points and nine boards. Both players were nearly unstoppable, especially in the first half before the Heat made a halftime adjustment.
Denver held a lead throughout, but it never got past eight as the Heat had an answer for just about every Nugget layup and put-back.
There are problems on the defensive end. This is the third consecutive game the Heat have allowed an opponent to score over 100 points and the second time in those three games where the opponent has shot over 50 percent. Miami’s lack of size was put on showcase throughout and facilitators were allowed to get into the teeth of the defense, leading to the Nuggets scoring a myriad of points off of dribble-penetration via the guards or second-chance points from the forwards and centers.
Not to sound cliche, but the team is in a process. They are obviously sacrificing defense for offense when Ray Allen is playing 30 minutes and Rashard Lewis (15 minutes) is still receiving any sort of time, since those spots can be filled in by either Shane Battier (21 minutes) and Udonis Haslem (five minutes) who are far superior defenders. As bad as the defense has seen in the past three games, the offense has had its consistent stretches of being near impossible to stop.
This game against Denver reflected the Heat’s transition. They are attempting to out-score their opponent and want to avoid that identity. They finished fourth in points allowed per game last season and they are near the bottom of the league after three games this year. The numbers become even more jarring when you look at Boston and Denver’s outputs in other games; the Celtics scoring 88 against Milwaukee and 89 against Washington, while the Nuggets mustered only 75 against Philadelphia and 89 against Orlando.
Yet those two teams managed to score as much as any Heat opponent did last season. Fortunately, it’s a long season and these things can be worked out. The Heat over-adjusted from their poor perimeter defensive performance against New York, instead sacrificing layup after layup rather than three-pointer after three-pointer.
However, talent prevailed and it was Chris Bosh who was playing like the All-Star power forward that emerged in Toronto.
Bosh had trouble corralling Faried and McGee, but made up for it with a 40-point outing–the most points he has scored in a Heat uniform. He also had seven rebounds and converted 9-of-10 from the free throw line. He forced original starter Kostas Koufos into playing a foul-plagued 13 minutes and continued to hold his own against Faried and McGee, who combined for nine fouls.
This kind of game from Bosh was a necessity. James was being defended by a superb perimeter defender in Iguodala and Dwyane Wade hardly looked like himself, finishing with 14 points on 12 shots, four assists and three rebounds, but also finished with four blocks, including two against the Nuggets 7-footers in Koufos and McGee.
The Heat play the Phoenix Suns on Monday.