DENVER — The Miami Heat are forged in adversity.
And discipline. And smarts. And hard work. And experience.
There’s no other way a No. 8 seed reaches the NBA Finals.
There’s no other way a No. 8 seed goes on the road against the No. 1 seed and wins an NBA Finals game.
The Heat embarrassed the Denver Nuggets in Game 2. It wasn’t the final score, a 111-108 Miami victory for a 1-1 Finals series.
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It was the manner in which the Heat played and Nuggets didn’t.
You don’t beat the Heat on talent alone, and the Nuggets should know that. This was a classic Heat victory, outworking, outsmarting and outplaying the opponent.
“We faced a lot of adversity during the season,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We handled it the right way where you are not making excuses about it, the injuries, the lineups changes. Because of all that adversity and the 57 close games that happened, due to a lot of that, it hardened us. It steeled us and we developed some grit, which is what we all want.”
Spoelstra tires of expounding on Heat culture and resiliency.
“We’ve talked about it in all the previous three series,” he said, “so I feel like I’m being redundant.”
But it also doesn’t stop him from appreciating how it helps his team.
“We want to be able to have that privilege of having adversity and being able to overcome it,” Spoelstra said. “You gain strength from that.”
In almost every way − except for Denver having the best all-around player on the court in two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, who had a game-high 41 points − the Heat were the stronger team.
They started the game well, finished strong and in between, the Heat absorbed Denver’s scoring bursts and countered with their own while playing outstanding defense against one of the NBA’s best offenses.
Miami fell behind 50-35 midway through the second quarter and trailed 83-75 to start the fourth. With 3:39 left in the game, it had a 107-95 lead.
“Just find a way to win,” Heat star Jimmy Butler said. “We did that tonight as a group, and we’ll continue to do that as a group.”
The Heat were better than they were in Game 1, and that was enough to win Game 2. Miami, which has been a great 3-point shooting team in the East playoffs, was just 33.3% from that distance in Game 1. It missed open shots.
Denver’s Game 1 victory lulled it into a false sense of control, and Michael Malone was worried about his team’s defensive effort. The Heat believed the law of averages would be in their favor, and they took the same open shots Sunday as they did in Game 1. Unlike the opener, those shots went through the hoop.
Max Strus missed nine 3-pointers Thursday. He made four Sunday and contributed 14 points. Gabe Vincent scored a team-high 23 points and added three assists and two steals. Butler had 21 points, nine assists and four rebounds, and Bam Adebayo had 21 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Duncan Robinson scored his 10 points in the fourth quarter, part of an offensive display that staggered the Nuggets.
Contributions came from up and down the roster, including the veteran presence of Kyle Lowry (nine points, three assists) and Kevin Love (six points, 10 rebounds, two steals).
“Make-or-miss shots, we’re going to be who we are because we’re not worried about anybody else,” Butler said. “That’s how it’s been all year long, and that’s not going to change. So that’s what I think it is. I think it’s the ‘I don’t give a damn’ factor.”
It marked the Heat’s seventh victory in the 2023 NBA Playoffs after trailing by at least 10 points, tying the record for the most double-digit comebacks in a single postseason in the last 25 years.
By this point in the playoffs, given the eighth-seeded Heat beat top-seeded Milwaukee and second-seeded Boston to reach the NBA Finals, they will make an opponent earn a victory.
Or the Heat will, without apology, rip away the win and make a team reconsider what’s necessary to win a playoff game.
Follow NBA columnist Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt