The Miami Heat’s magical run could soon come to an end.
After Friday’s Game 4 loss in Miami, the Heat face a 3-1 deficit to the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Finals. The odds for a comeback are slim as the series heads to Denver for Monday night’s Game 5, as the Heat would have to win each of the next three games to win the organization’s first championship in a decade.
“Whatever the analytics are about 3-1, that ain’t going to decide it,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s going to be decided between those four lines, whose game can get to whose game and ultimately win at the end. That’s what our guys love.”
Only one team in NBA history has come from down 3-1 and won the championship: the Cleveland Cavaliers over the Golden State Warriors in 2016. Kevin Love was a featured player for those Cavaliers when they completed their historic comeback, and has been telling his teammates to take it one game at a time.
“We just have to come out to our game, stick to our schemes both offensively and defensively, Love said. “There are some things that have been glaring for us. We’ll go out there and get the job done.”
That said, here are three statistics that point to why the Heat find themselves in this desperate situation.
1. 3-point shooting
After shooting 39% in the East side of the playoff bracket, including 43% in the East finals, the Heat have shot better than 33.3% from 3-point range just once against the Nuggets in the NBA Finals. That game — Game 2, when they made 48.6% of their 3s — stands as Miami’s only win of the series.
It’s been a particularly rough shooting series for Max Strus, who went from shooting 36% in the first three rounds to just 19.2% in the Finals. Gabe Vincent, who shot 39% for most of the playoffs, has missed nine of his last 10 from 3-point distance.
Some credit goes to the Nuggets, who have done a better job over the last two games of staying home on Miami’s shooters and forced Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo into uncomfortable scoring roles. The Heat have countered by trying to get Butler and Adebayo to the rim to draw Denver’s defense in and create more open looks, but the results have been disappointing.
“I have to do a better job of getting guys open,” Butler said. “Whether it be off the screen or off my attacks, to make sure our shooters get the shots they normally get.”
2. Scoring in the restricted area
The biggest battleground win in this series has been Denver’s advantage at the basket. The Nuggets’ size — headlined by Nikola Jokic but also including Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. — has given the Heat fits on both ends of the court.
While the Nuggets have had an easier time getting shots near the goal in the restricted area, the Heat have been bothered by their size and strength and have struggled to make shots at the rim. In the biggest discrepancy in this series, the Nuggets are making 72.3% of their shots in the restricted area while the Heat are shooting 59.7% from the same area. That’s the difference between the best conversion rate in the restricted area in the regular season, and the worst.
It hasn’t helped that Denver has gobbled up heaps of offensive rebounds, but for Miami to extend this series it will start with making more of its shots at the basket. Especially Butler and Adebayo, who have combined to miss 20 of their 44 shots in the restricted area.
3. Nikola Jokic’s dominance
After four games, Jokic has established himself as not only the best player in the series, but in the world. Jokic is averaging 30.8 points on 50-44-88 splits, 13.5 rebounds, 8 assists and 1.5 blocks in the NBA Finals. That ranks first, first, second and first in each respective category for the series.
In Game 3, Jokic became the first player to have at least 30 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in an NBA Finals game, and in this series became just the third player in NBA postseason history to collect 500 points, 200 rebounds and 150 assists in a single playoff run, joining LeBron James (2015-18, 2020) and Larry Bird (1987).
“I’ve played with a lot of legends in my time,” said Nuggets forward Jeff Green, who played with James, Kevin Durant and others during his career. “He’s definitely up there skill-wise, IQ, ability with what he’s able to do on the floor.”