Entering Game 3 of NBA Finals, Heat are loose and Nuggets facing adversity

Entering Game 3 of NBA Finals, Heat are loose and Nuggets facing adversity

MIAMI (AP) — Erik Spoelstra has preached about the value of adversity for months, not shying away from saying that it helped the Miami Heat get to these NBA Finals.

And now Denver is dealing with a little taste of it as well.

Game 3 of the NBA Finals is Wednesday night in Miami, the series between the eighth-seeded Heat and top-seeded Nuggets is knotted at a game apiece. It got that way after Miami rallied to win Game 2 in Denver 111-108 on Sunday night, an outcome that prompted Nuggets coach Michael Malone to openly share frustrations — primarily over a lack of discipline on a lot of possessions.

“We had a really good film session this morning,” Malone said Tuesday. “I gave an opportunity for everybody on our team to speak and talk about what they saw on the film. It was a very honest conversation. Guys owned what they needed to own. We have to learn from Game 2 to use it to our advantage.”

In other words, Denver needs to do what Miami did coming out of Game 1.

The Heat faced significant deficits in both games in Denver — 24 points in Game 1 and 15 points in Game 2. And while there was a comeback try in the opener, getting within nine late, the Heat managed to erase the whole deficit and then some in Game 2.

“You’re in the finals,” said Spoelstra, seeking his third championship as coach of the Heat. “You’re going to be dealing with great players, great teams. You have to find a way to overcome it and make it difficult and do a lot of things that are tough.”

Wednesday’s winner obviously gets the upper hand with a 2-1 series lead, and history will tip in that team’s favor as well. When a finals is tied 1-1, the Game 3 winner has gone on to eventually claim the title 80% of the time (32 times in 40 past instances). And 2-1 series leaders, regardless of whether they won Game 3 or not, have taken the title 79% of the time (49 times in 62 past instances).

The Heat are in the finals for the second time in four seasons, but are playing their first finals game actually at home since 2014 — the 2020 appearance was in the bubble, with no fans in the buildings for most of that experience and only a few family members for the finals.

“No matter what, they are going to be behind you,” Heat guard Kyle Lowry said. “They are going to give you energy. You know, if the other team is on the run, they are going to give you a little boost. If you’re on a run, there’s going to be a crazy boost. The overall energy for your team and your group, it will give you a little bit of a lift — but it won’t win you the game, because you’ve still got to go out there and hoop.”

Hooping at the end of games hasn’t been an issue for Miami in this series. The Heat are outscoring Denver 66-45 in fourth quarters in this series, shooting 64% to the Nuggets’ 44% in the final period and holding a 33-9 edge in points off 3-pointers.

But the first three quarters, they’ve trended big-time toward Denver. The Nuggets have outscored Miami 167-138 in those periods, outshooting the Heat 53% to 39%. Miami has outscored Denver 57-48 on 3s in those quarters, but that’s nothing like the unmanageable margin the Nuggets have dealt with in final quarters.

“Just don’t get them wide-open looks,” said Denver’s Nikola Jokic, who is averaging 34 points, 10.5 rebounds and nine assists in his first two finals games. “Yes, we know they’re going to score. Yes, we know they have talented players. But we cannot give them open looks, and that was the main key.”

There wasn’t a lot of worry coming from either side Tuesday, when the teams had to go through the obligatory public workouts as part of the NBA media off-day slate. The Nuggets were loose, smiling a lot. The Heat were doing much of the same.

Moods will change by the end of Wednesday night. One of the teams — either the big pre-finals favorite Nuggets, or the eighth-seeded, nothing-to-lose Heat — is going to be two wins away from a title.

“When we’re working we still like to have fun and keep it loose,” Heat forward Kevin Love said. “It keeps us loose out there on the court starting the game and throughout 48 minutes. But it’s not without intention and the willingness to do whatever it takes.”

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