Before Game 2 of the final, the Nuggets remained on seven straight wins, which had allowed them to successively eliminate Phoenix, humiliate the Lakers and put a hand on the final against Miami. Sunday, they were on track to affix the second since they were leading by 15 points after 19 minutes of play (50-35). But still, something strange was going on. From different.
At this moment of the match, Nikola Jokic had already scored 11 points but only given 2 assists. Three days earlier, during a remarkable match 1 (104-93), the Serb presented at the same time of the meeting (while Denver was there also comfortably in the lead, +9), a stat line at the antipodes: 4 points for 8 assists. Here’s how Miami turned the streak upside down: by successfully cutting off the two-time regular season MVP from teammates.
Jokic scored 41 points in the end, including 28 in the second half. But he lost more balls (5) than distributedassists (4). Deprived of their connection, Jamal Murray (18 points, 10 assists) lost his influence over the game before waking up in the money time then to miss – by very little – a shot from eight meters on the Nuggets’ last attack which would have made it possible to snatch an extension. For Denver, the disillusion is great. The No. 1 regular season team lost its mojo and home advantage before playing twice in Florida, Wednesday and Friday night.
However, the final is still far from over, one could even say that it really begins now. And Denver isn’t the first team to crack under the Heat’s rebounding ability and coach Erik Spoelstra’s mastery. He succeeded by replacing Caleb Martin in the five with a heavier player, Kevin Love (114 kilos), to reduce the physical deficit. It’s not the only reason why Jokic was isolated, but it helped by allowing Bam Adebayo (21 points) not to have to do everything ‘alone’ in the interior game.
Miami’s last victory in Denver dates back to December 1, 2016 (98-106). No current Heat player had come into play that night. As for Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, they were then substitutes behind Jusuf Nurkic and Emmanuel Mudiay.
Erik Spoelstra also found the words to restore confidence to his shooters, catastrophic in Game 1. Max Strus first, whose four award-winning baskets allowed Miami to start better than Denver (15-24, 9th). Duncan Robinson then, who put the Heat back in place by scoring eight consecutive points in 50 seconds at the start of the last quarter (85-83, 37th). In total, the Floridians managed a beautiful 17/35 from 3 points, with a flamboyant Gabe Vincent (23 points) and a Jimmy Butler (21 points) who played his best basketball in the money time. Although the best is yet to come.