NBA Finals

How momentum shifted to Miami

Paul Mata

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How momentum shifted to Miami

RING ACTION. Nuggets forward Bruce Brown (right) shoots against Heat forward Kevin Love in Game 2.

USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

As the finals series heads to Miami, the Heat aim to keep things clicking against the Nuggets

MIAMI, USA – As the series switches to the sunny beaches of Florida, momentum it seems has shifted to the Miami Heat following their masterful comeback against the Denver Nuggets in Game 2 of the series.

Perhaps it started right before tip-off when Heat coach Erik Spoelstra kept people guessing on the composition of his starting five, just two hours before the game. 

“I cannot confirm that, nor will I,” Spoelstra said, giving the media gathered a quick smile. “But look, I’m still waiting to officially get word that Caleb (Martin) and Gabe (Vincent) are going, although it’ll take a lot to have them sit out. Then I’ll just figure out my official lineup in the next hour or so.”

And then he inserted Kevin Love, who didn’t play at all in Game 1, to replace Martin.  

The 34-year old Love gave the Heat a better height matchup against the Nuggets frontline. The 14-year veteran forward – who signed with the Heat last February – helped stymie the Nuggets offense, with Michael Porter Jr. also getting limited to 5 points after scoring 14 in the previous game.

Love produced a plus-18 in his player efficiency impact to go with 6 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 steals.

Admittedly, Spoelstra really wanted to let Love in the first game of the series but blamed his own decision-making process. 

Trusting Vincent 

But if there’s one key decision the Heat did right, it’s their continued trust on Gabe Vincent, who started as a two-way player at the Orlando bubble, then developed from being strictly a shooter to a combo guard who can organize the team’s offense.

“I think that’s the toughest thing to do in this league – turn a 2 (shooting guard) into a 1 (point guard),” said Spoelstra.

“He openly just embraced that. Then he struggled at times with that because you’re trying to reinvent yourself. Instead of saying, ‘This is too tough. Let me be me.’ He’s really grown the last three years.”

Vincent led Game 2 in scoring for the visiting team with 23 points, 3 assists, and 2 steals. In the series opener, he also had 19 points, 5 assists, and shot 50% from the three-point line.

“He’s just an incredible winning player,” Spoelstra said. “This year, he’s been a starter for us. He’s been great. He’s off the bench, he’s been great,” said Spoelstra. 

“He’s like a lot of our guys, the competitive spirit. You get challenged, like we’re getting challenged in this series, you hope it brings out the best in you. And that’s what it’s doing with him.”

Altitude no longer a Nuggets advantage

From the onset, Spoelstra brushed off notions that his Heat may need time to adjust to Denver’s high altitude

“If Denver wants to tip this thing off at the top of Everest, we’ll do that,” the Filipino-American coach cheekily said prior to the series.

Even Nuggets coach Michael Malone agreed that much has been made out of Denver, known as the “Mile High City,” sitting a mile above sea level.

On court, the numbers 5280 – Denver’s height above the sea floor level – are also inscribed on the hardwood, perhaps a psychological play for visiting teams as athletes unused to the high altitude usually tire out faster.

“I think the altitude, too much is made of that. I think Miami has been here for probably like a week now, so they’re acclimated,” said Malone. 

While the Nuggets took Game 1, the Heat proved Malone’s point in Game 2 as they dealt Denver’s first home court loss in this season’s playoffs.

Heat’s fourth-quarter fire

Although the Nuggets held off the Heat’s late surge in the series opener, they could not do the same in Game 2.

Malone already worried back in Game 1 of another impending fourth-quarter Nuggets collapse. True enough, after a fantastic third-quarter by Nikola Jokic where he took charge before finishing with 41 points, the Heat just took full control.

“To me the wheels really fell off to start that fourth quarter,” said Malone. 

“[The Heat] were getting whatever they wanted, threes, layups, and that allowed them once again to sit back in their zone offense. Slow the game down.” 

Malone admitted the Nuggets’ defense needs “to be a hell of a lot better.” 

“That’s two fourth quarters, Game 1 and Game 2, where our fourth-quarter defense has been nonexistent,” he said. – 

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