Game 2 of the NBA Finals brought on its own personality as every game this series will. The officials missed some bad calls, the Denver Nuggets played with their food, and the Heat continued their hot shooting this postseason. Yet somehow, this came down to a final possession where the Heat barely held on. Let’s dive into it.
You can also find the game one analysis here.
NBA Finals Game 2: Analyzing Coaching Adjustments
The first possession for the Heat was a baseline out of bounds pindown for Max Strus. Last game, I mentioned if the Heat just made their shots, the outcome would have been completely different. Strus began the game showing this game would be different as Denver messed up the switch. Miami started Kevin Love to combat their Aaron Gordon problem from last game. Instead of going to Gordon on the first possession, the Denver offense never touched the paint and it settled for a long Nikola Jokic three.
Miami started the game on a 10-2 run before a Nuggets timeout. Of the 10 Miami points, eight of them were because of miscommunications and defensive breakdowns on switches. Out of the timeout on the next defensive possession, they did not cover a dribble handoff correctly which led to a Strus open three that he missed. Miami’s defense was excellent as well, rotating perfectly and forcing Denver into bad offensive sets.
Miami started the game on a 21-10 run by just being more aggressive defensively and prepared to play. The effort and attention to detail by Denver had nothing to do with coaching. The starters were not ready to play, showing defensive breakdowns on simple actions. Then, the substitution of Bruce Brown injected Denver with some energy that was visible in the game. The other Denver bench players entered the game and the pace of the game picked up even more. Denver somehow finished the 1st quarter down 26-23 after the bench filtered in and energy picked up. The bench was ready and the starters were not.
Christian Braun. That’s it.
The rookie from Kansas completely disrupted the Miami offense scoring the first two points and having two deflections and one steal in the first minute of the quarter. His switches and low man rotations were perfect and his energy was infectious. Denver started out the quarter on a 10-3 run and were on an extended 16-3 run going back to the last quarter because of the pace and energy of their bench.
Miami called a timeout and came out of the timeout turning the ball over for a Jamal Murray three. Every Miami miss the ball was being pushed in transition. Every Miami turnover was turned into points. Miami went to a zone to slow down their half-court sets only to give up a corner three to Aaron Gordon. Denver was up 10.
Miami turned the ball over for a highlight Jamal Murray dunk. Something that isn’t mentioned before that dunk is Braun’s defense before that erratic pass on Kyle Lowry. His defense and play single-handedly change the outlook of the first half. All with Jokic on the bench.
Denver’s lead got up to 15 at one point in large part to the bench forcing turnovers. Then Miami did what Miami does and manufactured a 17-7 run to finish the half within striking distance.
Somehow, Denver was up 57-51 at the end of the 1st half.
Denver somehow started the 2nd half the exact way they started the game. Before a quick Michael Malone timeout, Miami scored 11 points. All 11 points were directly correlated to miscommunications and defensive breakdowns on simple actions. This needs to be noted, this has nothing to do with coaching. This is the NBA Finals and these are professionals. Simple breakdowns that are more to do with effort are all on the players. They are prepared and just did not perform.
To compound the effort to start, there were two awful out of bound calls to favor Miami that gave Miami four points. The calls were not close, yet the same referee missed the calls that lead directly to points for Miami. Miami and Denver were both operating with the same level of aggression defensively during this stretch. Miami were the only ones being rewarded for it as Denver began to lose their composure.
Then Nikola Jokic took over at the end of the quarter off of multiple Miami turnovers. The Heat attempted to single-cover him with Cody Zeller and to make a long story short, it did not work.
Jokic sat for his normal rest to start the 4th. A bad closeout by Jamal Murray led to a Duncan Robinson three-pointer. Then Jamal fouled him on the next possession for an and-1 layup. And off of a missed free throw, Kyle Lowry outworks Jeff Green on a rebound and it leads to a loose ball. Duncan Robinson hits another three to follow. In basically two trips down the court, Duncan Robinson scored 8 points with Denver once again not being disciplined to start a quarter. Timeout by Denver.
Coming out of the timeout, Miami went to a high 1-3-1 zone that led to a shot clock violation. They stayed in this zone for most of the quarter when they were able to set their defense. Two straight possessions in a row for Miami, Bruce Brown and Christian Braun had breakdowns on simple switches for 5 Miami points to take the lead. It is unclear whose fault it was on those switches, but Christian Braun got blamed and yanked from the game for it.
Kyle Lowry drew a foul on a late shot clock heave from a range he would not have made. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope claimed Lowry kicked out. But being that close on such a bad shot was just an untimely play for Denver. They then followed it with a turnover and it led to an Adebayo dunk on Porter Jr plus a foul.
Denver somehow still created a late run in which they had a chance to tie the game on the final shot by Jamal Murray. Michael Malone should have called a timeout but the look was still not a bad one. It barely rimmed out and the series was tied at 1-1.
Things to Watch for in Game 3:
Jeff Green when asked about the effort in his media availability said, “Yeah. I mean it’s the …Finals. Our energy has to be better. We can’t come out like we did. We have to be better.”
Denver came out as if they had already won the game to start every quarter except the 2nd and that is quite frankly why they lost. Expect Denver’s aggression and attention to detail to be much more precise next game.
A lot of comment has been about making Jokic into a scorer. Miami did not do that, Denver’s role players just missed their shots. There were at least 8 instances throughout the game where Jokic fed his teammates and they just missed their shots. The missed goaltend and four out-of-bound calls were huge plays but Miami shot over 50% from three as well. If they continue that shooting, they are not only winning the next game. They are winning the entire series.
Something to note is the officiating in this game was awful and heavily favored the Heat. The free throw disparity was not too bad, but in the game of basketball, it is not as simple as that. The time and place of the calls can heavily impact the game. The two offensive fouls on screens in the 4th were poorly called and not consistent with the flow of the game. There were three out-of-bound calls in the 2nd half that went to Miami that were poorly missed calls. The missed goaltend was bad itself but that did not affect the flow of the game as much as the other calls did.
Expect the calls to be much fair next game as this just seems like an outlier in the long term of the series. Miami probably will employ more zones, specifically in the 4th to limit Denver’s attack. Also, expect Denver to change up some rotations and possibly give Christian Braun more minutes while limiting Michael Porter Jr’s minutes.
While I do expect this series to go seven games now that Miami split this series in Denver, this next game is likely going to Miami depending on how Tyler Herro returns. If Herro plays poorly, Denver could and should win this game. Denver will win one of the next two games before heading back to Denver but Game 3 may not be it. Expect Miami to jump out to a large early lead behind their home crowd.
Denver will come back and this will be another close game coming down to the final minutes. But Miami will pull away thanks to their home crowd and a home whistle as well. Jimmy Butler will need a big game and he is due for one. Denver has done a great job containing his offensive impact but he likely will come out gunning.
Miami Heat 111- Denver Nuggets 106