DENVER — For the first time in these playoffs, the Miami Heat find themselves trailing in a series following Thursday’s loss to the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. But ahead of Sunday’s Game 2, the Heat are projecting calmness and confidence.
“You’ve got to get to four,” Jimmy Butler said. “So down 0-1, we know we are going to get to four. We are in there laughing, in there smiling, knowing that we could play better. We will play better.”
Despite this relatively new circumstance, the Heat aren’t strangers to adversity. The eighth seed in the East, the Heat finished the regular season just six games over .500 and were nearly eliminated in the play-in tournament. Tyler Herro has been sidelined with a broken hand since their first playoff game, and Butler missed a game in the second round against the Knicks with a right ankle injury.
Then in the East finals, the Heat went up 3-0 over the Boston Celtics, only to lose three straight to tigger a Game 7 that they won on the road. The Heat know as well as anyone that a series isn’t over after one game.
“Down 0-3, up 3-0, you’ve got to get to four,” Butler said. “Nobody is ever counted out.”
Having watched film of Game 1’s 104-93 loss, the Heat are encouraged by a fourth quarter in which they outscored the Nuggets by 10 and the fact that they missed open shots that they believe they’ll make as this series goes on.
The Heat shot 13 for 39 (33.3%) from 3-point range, far below their postseason rate of 39%. Miami’s marked shooters, Max Strus and Duncan Robinson, particularly struggled, combining to go 1 for 14 from distance. Butler, Bam Adebayo and coach Erik Spoelstra are pushing them to keep shooting.
“You can’t get sick at sea when you miss a few,” Spoelstra said. “You’ve got to double down and keep (shooting), especially when they are open, clean looks.”
This, also, isn’t new ground for this group. Last year’s best 3-point shooting team, the Heat sunk to 27th in the regular season, making just 34.4% of their 3-pointers. All season long, they believed positive regression was on the way.
“We’ve had stretches throughout this year where we’ve shot the ball great and where we haven’t,” Robinson said. “Keep everything the same, routine the same, maintain consistency, and continue to have that belief and trust to let it fly and that it’ll go in.”
Added Strus, “I’m not going to let that keep me down. I’m ready for the next game.”
On Sunday, the Heat will have to tighten up their paint defense, mix in more coverages to defend Nikola Jokic and be more aggressive attacking the rim. Butler, who did not attempt a free throw in the opening game, admits he needs to be more assertive. They can build on the fourth quarter of Game 1, in which they played through Adebayo and found some success with their zone defense.
“I expect the Miami Heat to come out with a much greater energy and force” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
Besides film and practice, players are spending the days between games trying to stay fresh. Butler plans to go to an escape room with his daughter on Saturday night, Gabe Vincent might watch a movie and Kyle Lowry will enjoy dinner with friends.
Getting away for a moment helps keep the bigger picture in mind. The Heat have managed to take at least one game on the road to start each series and have a chance on Sunday to do the same before the Finals turns to Miami for Games 3 and 4.
“Having an opportunity to be 1-1 and then you take care of home, that’s a 3-1 split,” Adebayo said. “And you try to close out the series from there.”