The Miami Heat were outclassed by the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the 2023 NBA Finals, marking the first time Erik Spoelstra’s team dropped a series opener in the 2023 NBA Playoffs.
The Heat looked more like the 8th seed they are. They struggled to find rhythm offensively and even looked fatigued with some shots falling short, which was somewhat expected considering they just came off a grueling seven-game series in the Eastern Conference Finals and were playing at altitude.
Bam Adebayo and Gabe Vincent were Miami’s bright spots. Unlike the rest of the Heat team, Adebayo was comfortable offensively from the opening tip, scoring 25 points on 13-of-25 shooting. Vincent also had a strong outing with 19 points and five three-pointers.
Meanwhile, the Western Conference champions looked every bit like favorites to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Nikola Jokic had a historic triple-double performance even without dominating the scoreboard, while Jamal Murray added 26 points and 10 assists to lead the Nuggets to a 104-93 Game 1 win.
The notable name missing from the Heat party was undoubtedly Jimmy Butler. Butler finished with just 13 points on 6-of-14 shooting and was a team-worst minus-17 in 38 minutes.
While their Game 1 performance was certainly discouraging, the Heat should not hit the panic button just yet. Here are three reasons why.
3. Shots will eventually fall through
The Heat shot just 40.6 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three as a team in Game 1.
The main culprit behind that dismal shooting clip was Max Strus, who bricked all 10 of his shots from the field—including nine three-point attempts, many of which were quality looks—en route to a scoreless NBA Finals debut. Considering the kind of shots he was able to get, the Heat no doubt expect Strus to be more productive going forward.
Caleb Martin also proved unable to get going going, failing to carry over momentum from his epic Game 7 performance in the Eastern Conference Finals. Martin scored just three points on 1-of-7 shooting, his lone make being a semi-open left wing three late in the third quarter. Most of the time, those shots went down for the 6-foot-5 wing, especially during the previous round.
Nonetheless, those two shouldn’t be singled out for Miami’s shooting struggles. Duncan Robinson also had an off night, going just 1-of-5 from the field. Butler also didn’t channel Playoff Jimmy with an inefficient scoring game.
For the most part, Miami seemed to get the shots they needed to get, especially for their shooters. If that continues, the Heat should be in good shape.
2. Playoff Jimmy Butler is just fashionably late to the party
Jimmy Butler wasn’t Playoff Jimmy at all in Game 1.
His 13 points came on 14 field goal attempts, too low a number for a superstar of Butler’s standards. And it’s not like Butler and the Heat have the luxury that Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets have in terms of scoring depth. As admirable as this postseason run has been, this Miami team is still full of undrafted players who’ve wildly exceeded expectations just to be here.
That is why Butler must set the tone and be aggressive for his team to have a chance to win the Finals—a mindset he must have for a full 48 minutes. Butler seemed to be on that track after the first quarter, when he already had seven shot attempts. He only took seven more over the next three quarters.
Sure, the Nuggets defense deserves credit for forcing the ball out of Butler’s hands. But his lack of aggression, especially attacking the basket, was one of the main reasons Miami lost Game 1. Butler shot zero free throws in this game, which is inexcusable. Prior to entering the Finals, the six-time All-Star was averaging over nine free throw attempts per game. That is a clear indication he wasn’t getting to the rim enough, settling for too many jumpers or low-advantage passes to teammates.
Butler knows that he needs to be better. If and when he gets his mind right, the Heat should be in good shape to compete with the heavily-favored Nuggets.
1. Tyler Herro may be nearing a return
The Heat received some good news ahead of the opener with Tyler Herro aiming for a return in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Herro broke his hand in the very first game of the playoffs and has been out throughout this magical run by the Heat.
Herro’s return would inject Miami with a much-needed boost offensively. He was Miami’s third-leading scorer during the regular season and his return could help the team in terms of having another shot creator and playmaker.
Still, it would be interesting how Herro’s return could impact someone like Martin, who has been a revelation in his absence. Paul Pierce believes Herro’s injury was a “blessing in disguise” as it revealed Martin as the better player among the two.
Butler, however, doesn’t believe that.
“I just think the guys that Coach [Erik Spoelstra] and Coach Pat [Riley] put together,” Butler said following their Game 7 win over the Celtics. “When a guy goes down, the next guy can fill in that gap and do exactly what that guy that went down did and do it at a high level.
“And you know, be humble enough to know that when that guy comes back, you have to step back and get back in your role.” Butler added.
Martin has certainly done enough to earn a significant role on the Heat, especially through this Finals run, even when Tyler Herro comes back.
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