Fourth Quarter Propels Heat to Even NBA Championship Series

Ken Cross

June 06, 2023 at 1:07 pm.

So the Denver Nuggets went into the fourth quarter of Game 2 at Ball Center in Denver with an eight-point lead. They eyed the potential of a 2-0 series lead heading into Miami for Game 3 on Wednesday evening.

That was before a pair of Miami role players – Duncan Robinson and Gabe Vincent – showed the competitiveness of the entire Heat team as they pulled Miami through to its first win of the series.

Robinson was scoreless going into the fourth period, but he had 10 points and was a major issue for the Nuggets, who were 37-1 on the season with at least an eight-point lead going into the fourth.

“This is the NBA Finals,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone. “We are talking about effort and that was a huge concern of mine.”

Robinson hit his first pair of threes in the first 1:10 of the fourth quarter as he helped Miami trim that 83-75 deficit to 85-83.

Vincent then gave the Heat the lead on a three at 86-85 with 10:10 to play.

“At that time we were talking about schematics,” explained Heat coach Eric Spoelstra. “This is a really good offensive team. You have to compete at a high level and with discipline.”

The role of these two guards subdued the Nuggets who were led by Nikola Jokic’s 41 points and 11 rebounds, while they shot 52 percent from the floor.

As Miami was consistent from three throughout the game, swingman Max Strus hit four three-point field goals in the first half to pace Miami and keep them in position to nab Game 2.

Miami made its move to start the fourth quarter with the three-ball. They made 17-of-35 and were 11-for-16 in the fourth quarter and were 5-for-9 on threes. It was the third-highest shooting percentage in the NBA Finals in the last 25 years.

“They were getting whatever they wanted,” explained Malone. “They were hitting threes and layups and that allowed them to sit back in their zone defense, slow the game down, and we had a hard time getting shots.”

Miami has been consistently strong in the clutch in the playoffs. This is a team that lost to Atlanta in its first play-in game before winning over the Bulls to capture the seventh seed in the East.

After their 4-1 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Round 1, they handled the Knicks in the second series before a Game 7 disciplining of the Boston Celtics, 103-84, in the Eastern Conference Finals.

“In all the previous three series, we have faced a lot of adversity during the season and we have handled it the right way – with all the injuries and changing lineups,” explained Spoelstra. “It steeled us and we developed some grit. We want the privilege of handling adversity and being able to overcome it.”

While Jimmy Butler was expected to carry the Heat with any chances they had to win the NBA title, that has not been the case. He had 21 points and nine assists in Game 2 after just 13 points in Game 1.

He is a startling 13-of-33 from the floor in the first two games as coach Erik Spoelstra will be looking for Butler to maximize his athleticism with his scoring ability in the two matchups in Kaseya Center in Games 3 and 4 on Wednesday and Friday.

This was the Nuggets’ first home loss of the playoffs as they were 9-0 coming into the game. Malone wants to see the team more aggressive and taking control in the clutch of the games going forward.

“We were by far the least disciplined of our 16 or 17 playoff games,” said Malone. “They exploited every one of our breakdowns and scored.”

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