MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 2 June)—The Denver Nuggets pulled off a surprise for the Miami Heat in the opening quarter of Game 1 of their best-of-seven final series. It wasn’t Nikola Jokic but Aaron Gordon who exploded in that period, making 12 of the host team’s 29 points against the Heat’s 20. Jokic, who was double-teamed as soon as he got the ball at the post, only had two points but had six assists.
If Nuggets head coach Michael Malone wanted the 6’11” Serbian star to act as decoy, it worked. Gordon feasted on Miami’s smaller wing defenders with his drives that were barely contested. He also had four rebounds.
Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler combined for 15 points for the Heat in the first quarter.
The size disparity showed in the first half. The Nuggets made 32 points in the paint while the Heat only had 18. To add to the Heat’s woes, Jokic nullified the double-team on him by dishing out 10 assists in the first half, during which he scored 10 points and pulled down three rebounds.
Adebayo ended with 16 points for Miami during that period.
Jamal Murray, the other half of Denver’s formidable duo, scored 18 points, Gordon 14, and Michael Porter contributed 10 points during the first half to give their team a 59-42 advantage over Miami.
At the end of the third quarter the Nuggets increased their lead to 21 (84-63).
The Heat tried to turn things around with an 11-0 run in the fourth quarter, highlighted by Kyle Lowry’s back-to-back three-pointers to close the gap at 84-74. But the Nuggets responded with their own rally to increase their lead back to 16 (90-74). The Heat again threatened by cutting the margin to seven points (96-87) with less than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. It proved futile as the Nuggets ended the game with a 104-93 victory.
Jokic finished with another triple-double (27 points, 14 assists, and 10 rebounds). Murray’s output wasn’t far behind (26 points, 10 assists, six rebounds).
Bam Adebayo had a stellar performance (26 points, 13 rebounds) but Butler, Miami’s main offensive machine, only added 13 points (his worst since the playoffs), seven rebounds, and seven assists. Gabe Vincent had 19 points.
Caleb Martin, the Heat’s hero in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics, only made one field goal.
There’s no other explanation for Denver’s Game 1 victory: they simply played well. Moreover, they have remained unbeaten at home in these playoffs.
How will Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra respond in the succeeding games? Let Tyler Herro play starting Game 2—or maybe Game 3? Surely, his presence would make a difference as the team’s second best offensive player. It will force Denver to spread their defense wider. But can his right arm, his shooting arm, which was fractured in Game 1 of their playoffs with the Milwaukee Bucks, take contact?
If Herro could not be put back on the floor, the Heat may just have to rely on the best weapon that has pushed them this far—grit. But first, they have to regain their rhythm.
(Body and Sole is the author’s sports and fitness column. He can be reached at email@example.com.)