In the Miami Heat’s Game 3 loss to the Denver Nuggets, missed shots by Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo helped spring big nights by Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.
Down three in a closely played second quarter, Jimmy Butler cruised around a Kyle Lowry screen, got a step on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and went into a classic Butler move — a drop step followed by a two-footed floater. Butler has made this shot countless times, including in these playoffs, but this one gently nudged the front of the rim and landed in the hands of Aaron Gordon.
Gordon turned, sprinted down the court and out-ran the Miami Heat defense into an easy two-handed dunk. The result was a four-point swing. What could have been a 49-48 game had Butler made his shot was now 51-46 with 1:27 to go in the first half. This wasn’t a turnover, but it sure felt like it. The Denver Nuggets never trailed after this possession and won Game 3 in Miami, 109-94, to take a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals.
This was just one of Butler’s seven missed shots in the restricted area.
“I missed some that I normally make,” Butler admitted.
The close misses were contagious. As a team, the Heat missed 21 of their 34 shots in the restricted area, several of which had the same turnover-like affect as Butlers’ aforementioned missed floater. The Heat as a team committed only four turnovers in the game — a number any coach would do backflips over — yet the Nuggets scored heaps of points in transition or semi-transition.
Credit to Denver. The Heat missed 58 shots and the Nuggets grabbed 45 defensive rebounds, triggering countless opportunities to outrun the Heat and avoid a half-court defense that gave them fits in Games 1 and 2.
“It certainly helps making some of those shots in the paint or at the rim,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of how to limit Denver’s transition attack. “Your next-play speed, the brain speed to get on to the next play and make sure you have three or four guys back, and then communication from there.
“They did get some relief points, particularly in that first half, when it was either tied or we had small leads. They just came right back with some relief points that kept them alive and kept the momentum shifting.”
By the end of the third quarter, momentum had completely swung Denver’s way. The Heat kept missing shots at the rim and struggled to connect from deep (just 11 of 35 from 3-point range) while the Nuggets pounded Miami’s unsettled and often cross-matched defense for 60 points in the paint.
Denver’s stars Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray enjoyed the expanse of the open floor. They played with tempo, got to their spots with little interference and leapt into their dazzling two-man game. Murray had his best showing of the series, 34 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. Jokic stacked a Wilt-like 32 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists.
“Jokic is going to get his. He’s a two-time MVP,” Kyle Lowry said. “But I think Jamal set the tone for their group.”
Parse whatever else you’d like, the Heat don’t have a chance in this series if Jokic and Murray are putting up numbers like that. It’s the first time in the regular season or playoffs that teammates have had triple-doubles with 30 or more points in the same game.
Meanwhile, Butler and Bam Adebayo combined to shoot 18 for 45 for 50 points, including just 10 for 30 in the paint.
“I thought offensively, we actually did get a lot of opportunities in the paint,” Spoelstra said. “But our percentage at the rim or in the paint was pretty poor.”
Those 27 missed shots sprung Denver’s offense and drained the momentum from Miami’s shooters who feed off Butler and Adebayo. On Friday, the Heat need their two stars to match Denver’s duo. Their season is very much on the line.
“Those are the same shots that we’re going to get next game,” Butler said, “and we are expected to take and make those.”