Miami is celebrating the huge win in Denver, trying to shine a spotlight on the quiet heroes behind the big game. After the Heat's 108-111 victory over the Nuggets to go 1-1 in the Finals, Erik Spoelstra gave warm words to the team's supporting players, who once again rose to the occasion of truth.
"Our guys just love to compete, they like to play in moments of truth, and luckily we were able to make big defensive plays and we got a big contribution from all kinds of players, which is a must against a team of this level. Part of our run happened when Jimmy Butler was on the bench, which is very encouraging. Duncan Robinson gave big minutes, Kyle Lowry added the leadership required of a veteran player with the spirit of a champion, and that's not the end."
Spoelstra pulled Kevin Love from deep off the bench after the veteran forward didn't get a single minute in Game 1, and got an important contribution from him that wasn't limited to his 6 points and 10 rebounds.
"Kevin has started in quite a few games this season, and we just got him back tonight. Unfortunately, I didn't have the vision to include him in the first game, I was worried about how he would fit in against such an opponent, but he contributed a lot to us tonight. We needed his size and his rebounds. Like Kyle Lowry, he brings experience and a winning mentality as a former champion."
Start paying attention to it. Gabe Vincent (Photo by Getty Images, Justin Edmonds)
Above all was Gabe Vincent, who finished as Miami's leading scorer with 23 points and showed impressive composure with many momentum baskets. Like quite a few Miami players, Vincent is a fairly unknown player, who was never drafted but carved his way into the rotation with a lot of toughness and hard work.
"We love Gabe. The media doesn't follow him, but please start paying attention to him," Spoelstra pleads. "He went through an amazing process. When he came to us, he was a shooting guard, and we wanted to turn him into a point guard who knows how to organize the game, who knows how to guard. The hardest thing in this league is turning a shooting guard into a point guard, and he welcomed our demands. He had difficulties along the way, but he insisted on reinventing himself, and really improved in the last three years. He's a big winner. He has the competitive spirit that is required of players of this position."
Another X-factor was Duncan Robinson, who scored 10 straight points in the final quarter and turned things around with his own hands, with wonderful minutes. Along with Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler scoring 21 points each and proving winners for the umpteenth time, Miami recorded another typical comeback. "We have tremendous confidence in Duncan Robinson, and Jimmy stepping up in the last quarter has been doing that all playoffs," Adebayo said.
Miami may not be the most talented team in the league, but the numbers prove that it certainly deserves to be considered the team with the most impressive character in the NBA. Tonight's victory was the Heat's seventh playoff victory in games in which they fall behind by double digits. That's the all-time record for one team in the playoffs, set by the Heat on two more occasions (the 2011 playoffs and the 2012 playoffs), with Golden State doing the same last year.
Another X Factor. Kevin Love (Photo: Reuters)
The comeback queen did it again, and credit goes to coach Erik Spoelstra who made extensive use of zone defense that threw the Nuggets' offense off balance for some minutes, especially in the final quarter. In the United States, the narrative has grown stronger in recent days that Miami wants to force Jokic to make as many shots as possible, so that he will focus on scoring rather than managing the game.
This theory is backed up by data: The Nuggets have a three-game losing record in the three games in which Jokic scored 40 points or more, and a 7-3 record in games in which Joker settled for 6 assists or less. Tonight he had only 4 compared to 5 losses.
But if you ask Erik Spoelstra, it's certainly not a tactic the Heat are trying to use.
"You have to be really clueless about basketball to argue that the key to stopping Denver is to make Jokic a scorer. He is a huge player, twice MVP, for two years the best player in the world. You can't just say, 'OK, let's get him to score.' They don't play like that, they have so many moves to stop, and we have to focus on what we know how to do well. We try to play hard at any given moment, that's the key for us."
- Miami Heat
- Nikola Jokic