Gabe Vincent scored 23 points, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo each had 21 and the Miami Heat evened up the NBA finals by overcoming a monster effort from Nikola Jokic to beat the Denver Nuggets 111-108 in Game 2 on Sunday night.
Max Strus scored 14 and Duncan Robinson had 10 for the Heat, who had a big early lead, then were down by as many as 15 before reclaiming the lead in the fourth. Miami outscored Denver 36-25 in the final period, erasing an eight-point deficit going into the final frame.
And even then, they had to dig deep to finish Denver off.
Jokic scored 41 points and was 16 of 28 from the floor, the last of those shots a four-footer with 36 seconds left to get the Nuggets within three. Denver elected not to foul on the ensuing Miami possession. Butler missed a three, and with a chance to tie, Jamal Murray missed a three-pointer at the buzzer.
“Our guys love to compete,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra after the game. “They love to put themselves out there in those moments of truth.”
Spoelstra singled out Vincent for praise. “He’s a special guy. He really is,” he said of Vincent, who was undrafted coming out of college but has been superb in this year’s playoffs.
Murray had 18 points and 10 assists for Denver, while Aaron Gordon had 12 points and Bruce Brown scored 11. Jokic had four assists, significantly down on the 14 he had recorded in Game 1.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after the game that he had been unimpressed by some of his players’ performances.
“This is the NBA finals and we’re talking about effort,” he said. “That’s a huge concern of mine. You guys probably though I was making up some kind of storyline after Game 1 when I said we didn’t play well, but we didn’t play well. This is not the preseason or the regular season, this is the NBA finals … Miami came in here and outworked us.”
Game 3 is on Wednesday in Miami. Denver had been 11-0 with a double-digit lead in the playoffs.
Strus, who was 0 for 10 in Game 1, had four three-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 nine minutes, turning the double-digit deficit into a double-digit lead thanks to an absolute three-point barrage.
In a 70-second span early in the second quarter, Denver got four threes – more points than Miami got in that entire nine-minute stretch – and they came from four different players: Bruce Brown, then Jeff Green, then Murray, then Gordon. Murray had five straight points to end the flurry, and Denver led 44-32 when it was over. The Heat managed to close the gap to 57-51 by the half, but whatever good feeling Miami had after the opening minutes was long gone.
From there, the fight was on. Miami didn’t let Denver get away – then found a way to clinch victory in the fourth.