To some BetOnline patrons, it may have appeared as if the Miami Heat were showing the effects of a hard, dramatic seven-game series against the Boston Celitcs when they came to the Mile High City on Thursday night. And the Denver Nuggets were able to beat them rather routinely in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Erik Spoelstra has customarily been able to get much bigger efforts out of his team after a disappointing performance, but in this case they may be simply in the midst of a matchup problem.
The 104-93 final was not as close as it looked, as the Nuggets were up 17 at the hafl and 21 after three quarters. What can the Heat do to change things when Game 2 tips off at 8:30 PM ET at the Ball Arena?
For one thing, they can get to the line more. Miami had just two free throws in the opener, and at no time in NBA history has any team had less attempts from the charity stripe in an NBA Finals game. Spoelstra was not claiming that the Heat did not get enough breaks from the officials; rather, he is calling for more aggressiveness on the part of his top players, namely Jimmy Butler, who was held to just 13 points. Usually, if Butler can not get off with a strong offensive effort, Miami is in trouble. And that seemed to be the situation here.
The post-game talk was that Butler was somewhat tentative, maybe even intimidated, by the scheme the Nuggets threw at him. There was not enough to pick up the slack for him, and that is something we'll talk about in a moment.
In the NBA Finals betting odds posted on this game by the folks at BetOnline, the Nuggets are favored:
Denver Nuggets -8.5 (-112)
Miami Heat +8.5 (-108)
Over 216 Points -109
Under 216 Points -111
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Nikola Jokic, the two-time MVP who finished second in the balloting this season, had a triple-double in Game 1. What else is new? Jokic had 27 points and ten rebounds. But what may have been most important is that Jokic had 14 assists, and one of the things the Heat wanted to do was to limit Jokic's opportunities to make plays for teammates. Bam Adebayo was not successful at that, although he didn't have a lot of difficulty scoring (26 points).
We talked about people picking up the slack for Butler. One of the undrafted players for the Heat who came through big was Haywood Highsmith, who had 18 points. But he hadn't really been heard from in a big way before. Some of the people Miami may have been counting on did not have a good night at all. Examples - Duncan Robinson made just one of five three-point attempts. Max Strus was 0-for-9 from the arc. Caleb Martin, who has been a big hero in these playoffs, had only three points.
Martin was hampered because he was sick. And it's an illness that is keeping him out of Game 2. Tyler Herro, who broke his hand in the first game against Milwaukee, was expected back at some point in this series, but he's likely not going to play in Sunday night's game.
Denver outshot Miami by ten percentage points (50.6% - 40.6%) in Game 1. Michael Porter and Aaron Gordon are helping to provide a size advantage to the Nuggets, who are now 43-7 straight-up and 31-18-1 ATS at home and have won and covered ten of their last eleven against the Heat. So there's a lot of evidence for their side.
Butler has been handcuffed lately, shooting just 38.4% in his last four games. But he knows he's running out of time, and he's obviously capable of taking things over. We have to believe some of those shooters couldn't possibly have as bad a night as they did before. Invariably they have to get some calls from the officials; Spoelstra will make some adjustments, and maybe they take advantage of the fact that three Denver starters (Jokic, Porter, Murray) played more than 40 minutes in the opener.
So while we aren't necessarily all that confident Miami can steal this game on the road, we think they can cover, and they would do it wit improved offense. So we're doing the Heat and the "over" in this one.
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