Heating Up the Finals: Miami HEAT 3 Points Barrage Evens the Series with Nuggets

Kevin Love, sporting home white and away black, sat courtside for Games 6 and 7 against the Boston Celtics for the Miami Heat. He did not play even one minute of Game 1 of the NBA Finals versus Denver. In Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night, the Heat moved their 34-year-old stretch forward off the bench and into the starting lineup, enabling Miami to jump out to a 21-10 lead early on.

Nikola Joki, who would end with an outstanding 41 points and 11 rebounds, could not be stopped by love. Miami’s top scorer was not Love. But Miami’s increased bulk enabled them to stave off Denver’s chaotic offense. In Miami’s 111-108 victory over the Nuggets, which tied this championship series at 1-1, Love, who had 6 points and 10 rebounds, assisted in spreading the floor even wider for the Heat’s own pass-happy scoring assault.

After the break, when the tempo dropped, like a car’s tires plodding into mud, where this Miami club has excelled throughout the tournament, both teams overcome double-digit deficits to square off. The Heat defense became noticeably more tough, most notably with Adebayo squaring off against Joki’s brutal bulldozes through the paint. Joki’s passing presented the same threat to Miami as it did in Game 1, when the two-time MVP poured in 14 assists. The Heat put defender after defender at Joki in this game, on the blocks and at the elbows throughout the second half. When the ball swung in the direction of Denver’s shooters, they were unable to take advantage.

Against the Heat’s swarming second-half defense, a first-half highlight—a tic-tac-toe sequence with Murray sliding a pass to Joki, who fired a one-handeder to Aaron Gordon on the baseline for an open layup—was an afterthought.

Joki was still able to force his way to scores, but the Nuggets’ scoring effort lacked the consistency it had for most of this series. When the game was on the line, Jamal Murray led a Denver surge in the second quarter as Joki rested and sank a barrage of 3-pointers, while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope only managed a modest six points on four shots overall.

The 2018 lottery pick Michael Porter Jr., who has improved his shot selection and defensive awareness, stepped back into a few dubious looks and got lost on a few of Vincent’s wide-open deep shots, forgetting his assignment in the midst of Miami’s moves.

Adebayo put on an outstanding two-way effort, scoring 21 points and grabbing 9 rebounds while bearing the brunt of Joki’s strong shoulders in the restricted area (8-of-14 shooting). While Miami’s run to the Finals has seen a decline in Adebayo’s scoring effectiveness, the games where he’s cruising downhill with a bucket in his head always seem to go more smoothly for the Heat’s overall quest for a championship. Jimmy Butler scored two midrange baskets off the dribble and added seven more points to his total of 21 in the fourth quarter.

Game 3 of the series will be played on Wednesday in Miami. Love is expected to continue playing in the Heat’s starting lineup, as he took the position of Caleb Martin, a forward who had a breakout Eastern Conference Finals. Martin was doubtful for this game due to sickness and missed practice over the weekend, but he played 21 minutes and scored 3 points on 1-of-3 shooting.

This series is still very much alive thanks to the return to the home floor, where supporting shooters are more likely to get familiar bounces off the rim, a few more days for a crucial player like Martin to recover, and the probable return of scoring guard Tyler Herro.

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