There was a lot to unpack after the Nuggets decisively took Game 1 of the 2023 NBA Finals. Bookmakers haven't wavered, opening with Denver as a 9-point favorite for Game 2 on Sunday night. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokić dominated from the start of Game 1, while Miami got nothing from Jimmy Butler and many of its key role players. The Nuggets remain undefeated on their home court in the playoffs, but I expect the Heat to make a few adjustments to be more competitive. Here's how I'm betting Game 2:
Miami Heat team total over 103.5 (-115)
The Heat didn't show up until the fourth quarter of Game 1, and they're due for a bounce-back. Butler was far too passive, only scoring 13 points on 14 field-goal attempts. And it certainly didn't help that Caleb Martin, Max Strus and Duncan Robinson went a combined 2-of-23 from 3-point range. Coming into the Finals, Miami converted a playoff-best 39% of their threes, and it's not like their looks were terrible or even contested.
The Heat went 13-of-39 from distance, but of those 39 attempts, 30 were tracked as either open or wide open, per NBA Advanced Stats. This bodes well for Miami heading into Game 2, and if it can get a few more of those open looks to drop as they have recently, the Heat can at least hang in this matchup.
The Heat mistakenly fell in love with the three-ball way too much in Game 1, putting zero pressure on Denver's defense. The Heat should course correct and be in attack mode more frequently in Game 2. The free-throw disparity in Game 1 reached historical levels, as the Heat only had two free-throw attempts — the fewest in a playoff game. Ever.
Not one starter made it to the charity stripe!
So, it's imperative that the Heat are aggressive at the onset to make Denver's defense uncomfortable, especially Jokić. Miami is averaging nearly 45 drives per game in the playoffs, but it only drove 35 times in Game 1. While Denver holds a significant size advantage over Miami, its rim protection is suspect, and it's the one area of weakness in Denver's frontcourt the Heat can exploit.
The Heat put up only 93 points to start the series, which was their lowest of the postseason. However, Miami has been over 103.5 points in 63% of its games in this postseason and knowing that they're capable of making adjustments game-to-game, I'm confident they'll be able to get to the line and make more threes in Game 2.
Bam Adebayo double-double (Yes, -120)
Bam Adebayo balled out in the series opener, scoring 26 points (13-of-25 FG) with 13 rebounds and 5 assists. The 26 points were the fourth-highest total of his postseason career, while the 25 field-goal attempts were a playoff career high.
It appeared as if Denver's defensive strategy was to let Bam flourish but cut off the water for everyone else. Jokić played drop coverage quite a bit, and Adebayo took full advantage of the space — operating solely in the mid-range and restricted areas. He's not going to stretch out to the 3-point line, but he stepped up for Miami and he'll need to continue being aggressive if Miami is going to stand any chance in this series. Now, he may not get up 25 shots per game, but that volume is significant from a betting standpoint.
Bam's points prop market is up to 18.5 ahead of Game 2, an increase of 2 points since Game 1. Rather than relying on Bam to hit 19 points, I prefer his double-double market, considering how close he'll be to the rim and his recent stint of success. Scoring-wise, he's been in double figures in 20 straight playoff games since last season.
He's Miami's best rebounder and will be on the floor a lot to slow down Jokić. He's played 40-plus minutes in three straight games, and with Miami looking to regain momentum in the series, Bam will log heavy minutes.
Adebayo tied with Michael Porter Jr. for the most rebound chances in Game 1 (21). He's averaging 15.4 rebound chances throughout the postseason and is slightly under 10 rebounds per game for the playoffs at 9.4. He's gone over his double-double prop 42% of this postseason, but his role, volume and opportunity are heightened in this matchup. The Heat will be more reliant than ever on his scoring and rebounding, so I'm sold on him racking up a double-double.
Jamal Murray over 11.5 rebounds + assists (-105)
I was on the over for Murray's rebounds and assists market in Game 1, and he cleared it handsomely with 16 total rebounds and assists. Bookmakers upped his combo market from 10.5 as a result, but that's not enough to move me off this prop. Murray looked every bit like a Finals MVP contender in the first half, delivering 18 points with 4 assists and 4 rebounds.
Joker to Murray for three 💨
Jokic with 10 AST.
Murray up to 18 PTS.
Nuggets lead at halftime on ABC! pic.twitter.com/0eIV6Z8zwy
— NBA (@NBA) June 2, 2023
The Heat did an excellent job of containing Murray in the second half as he scored just 6 points (3-of-6 FG) with 6 assists and 2 rebounds. The only downside for the Heat was that Jokić woke up in the second half, scoring 12 points in the final frame to thwart any real threat of a Miami comeback.
But strategically, does forcing Jokić into the primary scorer role give the Heat their best chance to win?
Miami won the fourth quarter, 30-20, and closed a sizable lead once Jokić became the primary scorer. I'm expecting Miami to continue this strategy and emphasize stopping Murray —which would cause Murray to be more of a floor general than a bucket-getter. The fact that Murray accumulated six dimes and two rebounds in the second half shows his willingness to adjust to what the defense throws at him.
Murray pulled down 6-of-8 rebound chances and had 17 potential assists in Game 1. Murray's assist network had 4 of his 10 dimes go to Jokić, 2 each to Porter and Gordon, and one apiece to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown. MPJ and Gordon will have mismatches all series long due to their size, and Murray will continue to find ways to put them into positions to score.
Murray is firmly in contention with Jokić to lead the series in assists, and he'll continue on that path in Game 2. The rebounds are a bit riskier, but 7 assists and 5 rebounds are attainable, especially if he and Jokić shift roles from scorer to distributor like we saw in the second half of the series opener.