Naturally for an NBA Finals series with a clear favorite like the Denver Nuggets, no one gave the Miami Heat a real chance against Nikola Jokic's well-oiled machine. But in sports as in sports, the eulogies were probably premature.
On Monday morning, Miami, led by Gabe Vincent, came back from 15 points apart to win a dramatic 108-111 victory and handed Denver its first home loss in the playoffs. Miami didn't have such a good game, but was able to make a significant impact on Denver's game plan.
Jokic was limited to just 4 assists, frighteningly close to his season-low 3, which he recorded only twice. The Serbian may have scored a good 41 points and pulled down 11 rebounds, but here's the problem: When Jokic tries to do too much, his team tends to lose.
Jokic. The numbers are numbers, photo: USA TODAY Sports
It was the third time the Joker scored more than 40 points in the current playoffs. In all three games he did, the Nuggets lost, matching Jerry West, LeBron James and Luka Doncic who recorded similar stats.
Jokic's game is absolute, requiring control over very broad aspects of the chin even in the current era. Throughout the playoffs, he showed an ability to release control when needed and integrate secondary players, something that didn't happen tonight and further highlighted the absence of Jamal Murray, who only warmed up toward the end of the game.
Jamal Murray. Wake up late, photo: USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Love: The Change That Made the Difference
The discipline and balance that have so defined the Nuggets so far on both sides of the court have been the significant factors to point to throughout the playoffs. Tonight, the plan appeared to have been abandoned in light of adjustments made by Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. The decision to start with Kevin Love in place of the ailing Caleb Martin allowed Miami to create better passing routes, and he may continue to get credit in future games.
The series moves from here to Miami. Nuggets coach Mike Malone did not sound relaxed after the game and urged his players to invest more on the most important stage: "You probably thought I made up a story after the first game," he told the media following the loss. "We didn't play well," he emphasized Miami's good start, referring to the team's effort as "disappointing."
Kevin Love. X Factor, Photo by USA TODAY Sports
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And he really looked disappointed, he urged the players not to be complacent. Miami has broken all predictions this season, Malone isn't looking to join the victim list and the Nuggets will have to get back to basics to finish the job. It's not too late.
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