DENVER (AP) — Staring down a 2-0 deficit in the NBA Finals, as the visitors in a hostile arena where no road team had prevailed in more than two months, the Miami Heat decided to do what they’ve done throughout the postseason.
They found a way. Against all odds. Again.
The Heat tied the NBA Finals and had to overcome a monster 41-point effort from Nikola Jokic to do it. Gabe Vincent scored 23 points, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo each had 21 and Heat beat the Denver Nuggets 111-108 in Game 2 on Sunday night.
“Our guys are competitors,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They love these kind of moments.”
They were down by as many as 15 points, down eight going into the fourth, and those numbers signified they were going to lose. Denver was 11-0 in these playoffs when leading by double digits at any point in a game, and 37-1 this season overall when leading by at least eight going into the fourth.
The Heat didn't care. They outscored Denver 17-5 in the first 3:17 of the fourth to take the lead for good, eventually went up by 12, then frittered most of it away and had to survive a 3-point try by Jamal Murray as time expired.
“This is the finals,” Adebayo said. “We gutted one out.”
Game 3 is Wednesday in Miami.
Max Strus scored 14 and Duncan Robinson had 10 — all of them in the fourth — for the Heat, who had a big early lead, then got down by as many as 15. They had no answers for Jokic, who was 16 of 28 from the floor, the last of those shots a 4-footer with 36 seconds left to get the Nuggets within three.
Denver elected not to foul on the ensuing Miami possession and it paid off. Butler missed a 3, and with a chance to tie, Murray missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“I just contested it," Butler said. "Pretty glad that he missed it.”
Denver lost at home for the first time since March 30, and for the first time in 10 home playoff games this year. And just as he did after a Game 1 win, Nuggets coach Michael Malone sounded the alarm after a Game 2 loss.
“Let’s talk about effort," Malone said. “I mean, this is the NBA Finals and we’re talking about effort. That’s a huge concern of mine. You guys probably thought I was just making up some storyline after Game 1 when I said we didn't play well. We didn't play well. ... This is not the preseason. This is not the regular season. This is the NBA Finals.”
Murray had 18 points and 10 assists for Denver, while Aaron Gordon had 12 points and Bruce Brown scored 11.
“They just played hard, and like I said, it was more discipline,” Murray said. “It’s defeating when you’re giving up mistake after mistake, and it’s not them beating you, you’re giving them open dunks or open shots. That’s tough to come back from.”
Strus, who was 0 for 10 in Game 1, had four 3-pointers in the first quarter of Game 2. Butler made a jumper with 4:56 left in the opening quarter to put Miami up 21-10, tying the second-biggest lead any opponent had built in Denver so far in these playoffs.
In a flash, it was gone — and then some.
The Nuggets outscored Miami 32-11 over the next 9 minutes, turning the double-digit deficit into a double-digit lead thanks to an absolute 3-point barrage.
In a 70-second span early in the second quarter, Denver got four 3s — more points than Miami got in that entire 9-minute stretch – and they came from four different players: Brown, then Jeff Green, then Murray, then Gordon.
Boom, boom, boom, and boom. Murray had five straight points to end the flurry, and Denver led 44-32 when it was over. It looked like everything was going Denver's way.
Miami insisted otherwise. And for the 44th time this season, the Heat won a game by five points or less. None of them was bigger than this one.
“When it comes down to the wire,” Vincent said, “we're strangely comfortable.”
Heat: Miami changed its starting lineup, with Kevin Love back in the opening five and Caleb Martin — who missed practice Saturday with an illness – coming off the bench. … The Heat got their 13th win of these playoffs, breaking a tie with the 1999 New York Knicks for the most ever by a No. 8 seed.
Nuggets: Jokic became the 14th different player in NBA history to score at least 41 in a finals loss. ... Denver hadn’t lost a game since May 7 — four weeks ago. … Nuggets legends Alex English, LaPhonso Ellis (who actually ended his NBA career with Miami) and David Thompson were among those in attendance.
Injured Heat guard Tyler Herro played 2-on-2 on Saturday as he continues his efforts to try to return from a broken hand at some point in these finals — but remained out. Herro got hurt in the first half of Game 1 of Round 1 at Milwaukee. His status for Game 3 is unclear.
Commissioner Adam Silver told NBA TV before the game that negotiations for the next media rights deal are now a priority since the new Collective Bargaining Agreement has been ratified — and how expansion talk will come after that.
Silver said he thinks the media deal negotiations will begin “in earnest probably this next spring.” And after that, plans to add franchises will be the next item on the to-do list.
“We don’t have anything specific in mind right now,” Silver said. “But I think it makes sense over time if you’re a successful organization to continue to grow. There’s no doubt there’s a lot of great cities we’re interested in having in the NBA.”
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Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press