Miami Heat steal Game 2 in Denver to even NBA Finals series with Nuggets

DENVER ― Miami’s Jimmy Butler had an escape room outing planned for Saturday.

It was a metaphor.

The Heat unlocked the door to victory, beating the Denver Nuggets 111-108 in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday, tying the best-of-seven series 1-1 and adding intrigue.

Denver’s Jamal Murray missed a 3-point attempt at the buzzer that could’ve forced overtime.

Miami used an impressive fourth quarter, overcoming an 83-75 deficit and outscoring the Nuggets 36-25 in the final 12 minutes. Gabe Vincent led Miami with 23 points, Bam Adebayo added 21 points and nine rebounds and Butler finished with 21 points and nine assists.

The series moves to Miami for the next two games with Game 3 on Wednesday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC).

The Heat were better in the second game after a sluggish performance in Game 1 coming off a seven-game Eastern Conference finals series against Boston.

They did what they said they would do. The Heat were more aggressive, made more 3-pointers, shot 20 free throws, 18 more than they did in Game 1, and limited the scoring of Denver players not named Nikola Jokic. He scored 18 of his game-high 41 points in the third quarter.

The Heat, who have won at least one road game in the opening two games of a playoff series this season, made a decision: Jokic will score. Don’t let the rest of the Nuggets beat you. Jamal Murray had just 18 points after 26 points and 10 assists in Game 1, Michael Porter Jr. had just five points and six rebounds after 14 and 12 in the opener and Aaron Gordon had 12 points after 16 in Game 1.

"They force you to have to compete at a super-high level, but you have to do it with a brain and you have to do it with discipline," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

The Heat made 17 shots from behind the arc on 48.6% shooting, a significant improvement over 33.3% shooting in Game 1.

It was Denver’s first home loss of the playoffs, and Miami has won at least one game on the road in the first two games of each series this season.

Here's how it all unfolded:

How many points did Nikola Jokic score?

Jokic led all scorers with 41 points in the game, but it wasn't enough for the Nuggets to take a 2-0 series lead over the Heat. He scored 18 in the third quarter but was held in check by Miami in the fourth. He also finished with just four assists. Jokic's 68 combined points in Games 1 and 2 are tied with Kevin Durant for the third-most points in the first two games of an NBA Finals series in history.

How many points did Jimmy Butler score?

Butler finished with 21 points and connected on some clutch buckets in Miami's fourth-quarter comeback win. He added nine assists and pulled down four rebounds. His 21 points were tied with Bam Adebayo for second-most for the Heat, two points shy of Gabe Vincent's team-high 23 points.

Nikola Jokic makes history during Game 2

Nikola Jokic made history Sunday when he became the first center in NBA history to accumulate both at least 500 points and 100 assists in a single postseason, according to the league.

The two-time MVP achieved the mark toward the end of the third quarter in Game 2 of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat. He was leading the Nuggets with 31 points and added three assists at the time. He had 18 points in the third quarter alone.

Jokic made history earlier in the postseason when he broke Wilt Chamberlain’s record with his eighth triple-double of the playoffs. In Game 4 of the Western Conference finals — when the Nuggets swept the Los Angeles Lakers — he finished with 30 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists and was named the series MVP.

In Game 1 of the NBA Finals when Denver beat the Heat 104-93, Jokic finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists. He didn’t make his first basket, which was also his first shot attempt, until the seconds of the first quarter.

End 3: Nuggets 83, Heat 75

After two quarters with massive runs by both teams — a scorching start by the Heat followed by a strong response from the Nuggets — Miami and Denver traded blows in a closely contested third quarter that saw the home team hold a slim 83-75 lead with one quarter to play in Game 2.

Nuggets star Nikola Jokic, who spent much of the second quarter on the bench, scored 18 points in the third quarter to buoy Denver's chances at taking a 2-0 series lead. He scored the team's final nine points in the frame.

Jokic had everything in the first three quarters. Scoring from the post, around the rim and beyond the arc — not to mention supremely creative passing — which undoubtedly had Heat defenders wondering what the big man would attempt next.

Half: Nuggets 57, Heat 51

The Denver Nuggets took their first lead of Game 2 at 11:04 in the second quarter when Jeff Green was fouled on a fast break layup. Green made both free throws to make it a 27-26 game.

The Nuggets scored four straight three-point buckets to extend their lead to 39-29. The streak was broken by a trey from Gabe Vincent, but Denver had all the momentum as they went on a 21-6 run to start the quarter — all without Nikola Jokic, who was resting on the bench.

Jamal Murray had eight points in the quarter, including one of the three-point buckets and a back-to-back layup and jumper. He didn’t score in the opening period.

Max Strus only made a pair of free throws in the second quarter and still leads the Heat with 14 points, followed by 12 from Vincent and 11 from Jimmy Butler.

Jokic still leads the Nuggets with 13 points.

— Victoria Hernandez

Nuggets mount torrid run in second quarter, take double-digit lead

The Nuggets punctuated a 21-point turnaround by hitting their fourth consecutive 3-pointer in the second quarter. Denver began the quarter on a 23-6 run to take a 12-point lead with 7:49 left before the half. The score was 44-32 when Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had no choice but to call a timeout.

Much of the Denver run came with Nuggets star Nikola Jokic on the bench. It was Jamal Murray who took charge in his absence, beginning the quarter with eight points.

Miami was 6 of 11 from beyond the arc to start the game, but the Heat still couldn't keep pace with Denver's hot shooting.

Do the Heat have a run in them to close the gap before halftime?

— Richard Morin

End 1: Heat 26, Nuggets 23

Miami got exactly what it wanted to start Game 2. Coming out with a sense of urgency and aggressiveness, the Heat built a 21-10 lead in the first quarter. Miami’s Max Strus, who was 0-for-9 on 3-pointers in Game 1, made his first two from beyond the arc in Game 2 and helped the Heat to a 10-2 lead, forcing Denver to call a timeout less than three minutes into the game. He made another 3 later in the quarter, putting Miami up 19-10, and he had 12 points in the opening 12 minutes.

Miami's Jimmy Butler, who didn’t attempt a free throw in Game 1 after averaging 9.1 attempts in the three previous rounds, got to the foul line in the first quarter as he made good on his promise to be more aggressive.

The Nuggets missed seven of their first 10 shots, and Jamal Murray was scoreless in the first quarter. Denver settled in offensively late in the quarter, thanks to Nikola Jokic who had 11 points in the first.

National anthem gets saxophone treatment for Game 2

The national anthem at Game 2 of the NBA Finals was performed by saxophonist Dr. Harold Rapp III.

He gave an emotive performance that fired up Ball Arena as the Denver Nuggets sought to take a 2-0 lead over the Miami Heat.

Rapp III released his “Journey” album in 2020 and a single, “Sax Wind,” last year. According to an online biography, he was born in New Orleans and settled in Denver after spending time overseas as part of a military family in Germany and also in California. He started playing saxophone at age 10 and has performed with Gospel artists Kirk Franklin and Israel Houghton, contestants from “The Voice” and “American Idol” and Andrew Woolfolk of Earth, Wind & Fire.

Kevin Love starts, Caleb Martin off the bench

Miami will go out with a different lineup for Game 2 on Sunday, with Kevin Love getting the start in place of Caleb Martin.

Love didn't play in Game 1 and hasn't played since he started in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics. Headed into Game 2, Love has appeared in 16 playoff games and started 14 this playoffs.

"I had every intention to play him in Game 1, and things just kind of went a bunch of different ways. Nothing seemed to look right, including my decision making," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said ahead of Game 2. "But yes, he brings that veteran decorated playoff championship-level experience, and you can't really quantify what that means except for that he's been here, he can infuse a bunch of confidence in the guys, and he just has a timeliness of his winning plays. He's a tough competitor, and he's had some really important moments in this playoff run."

Martin, who was listed with an undisclosed illness, will be available but will start the game on the bench. The hero from Miami's Eastern Conference finals, Martin struggled in Thursday's Game 1 loss, scoring only three points on 1-for-7 shooting with four rebounds and no assists.

How do Heat get back into NBA Finals? For Erik Spoelstra it starts with their 'toughness'

Forget about the Miami Heat’s ugly 3-point shooting. And the problematic defensive mismatches.

Or even the zone defense that energized them in the second half of a 104-93 loss to the Denver Nuggets Thursday in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

"Scheme is not going to save us," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said during his postgame news conference. "It's going to be the toughness and resolve, collective resolve.

"That's us at our finest, when we rally around each other and commit to doing incredibly tough things."

This was not the Heat at their finest.

This is not what Spoelstra has in mind for Game 2 Sunday in Denver.

"Things have to be done with a lot more intention and a lot more pace, a lot more detail," he said.

There were signs the Heat are simply overmatched. (See: Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.) There also were signs the Heat might be able to put up a fight.

Read Josh Peter’s full feature on the Heat and their toughness here.

Tyler Herro ruled out for Game 2

Tyler Herro won't be making his return in Denver.

The Miami guard, who has been out since he had surgery after breaking his right shooting hand in Game 1 of the Heat's first-round playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks, has been ramping up his workouts in hopes of returning at some point during the Finals, but the Heat ruled him out for Sunday.

"He is progressing. We’re really encouraged by the progress," Spoelstra said ahead of Game 2. "He started doing contact work as soon as we got to Denver. We have to maintain perspective. We wanna be responsible about this. We’re all excited and encouraged by his progress. We’ll get back to Miami and all we’re doing is just sticking to the process, trying to stack positive days, also understanding this is not like trying to return to a game in December. This is the Finals, so there is a little bit of context to this."

Nuggets head coach Michael Malone commented on his team's preparation with or without the rising star.

"We know what kind of talent he is, his ability to play off the bounce, create for himself, create for his teammates and obviously shoot the three ball," he said. "If and when he becomes available, our guys will be ready from a personnel standpoint and a game plan standpoint, but we understand this is Game 2, he is out and we're gonna see a much different Miami Heat team than we did on Thursday night.

— Jordan Mendoza, Victoria Hernandez

Erik Spoelstra still figuring out Game 2 starters

The starting lineup for Miami is still up in the air with less than two hours until tip, Spoelstra said ahead of the game.

The team said on Twitter that Caleb Martin is available to play, but has an undisclosed illness. Veteran Kevin Love could get the start in his place.

Spoelstra said that Gabe Vincent is also still being evaluated. He missed Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals with an ankle injury and was the second leading scorer with 19 points in Game 1 of the Finals.

"I’m still waiting to officially get word that Caleb and Gabe are going, although it would take a lot to have them sit out," he said. "Then I’ll just figure out my official lineup in the next hour or so."

— Jordan Mendoza, Victoria Hernandez

NBA Finals schedule 2023

Here is the full schedule:

  • Game 1: Nuggets 104, Heat 93

  • Game 2: Nuggets vs. Heat | Sunday

  • Game 3: Heat vs. Nuggets | Wednesday, June 7 | 8:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

  • Game 4: Heat vs. Nuggets | Friday, June 9 | 8:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

  • Game 5: Nuggets vs. Heat | Monday, June 12 | 8:30 p.m. ET (ABC) *

  • Game 6: Heat vs. Nuggets | Thursday, June 15 | 8:30 p.m. ET (ABC) *

  • Game 7: Nuggets vs. Heat | Sunday, June 18 | 8 p.m. ET (ABC) *

*if necessary

Who is favored to win the NBA Finals?

Tipico Sportsbook has the spread favoring Denver by 8.5 points over Miami. They have the moneyline for Miami set at +300 and for Denver set at –360. They have the over/under for total points set at 215.5.

Heat's secret sauce to building a winning roster includes dash of undrafted players

Caleb Martin of the Miami Heat spent the first two seasons of his professional basketball career shuttling between NBA and G League assignments.

Charlotte Hornets. Greensboro Swarm. Heat. Sioux Falls Skyforce.

Undrafted after a college career at North Carolina State and Nevada, Martin used two-way contracts (playing in both the NBA and G League) to prove he belonged in the NBA. Last summer, Martin signed a three-year, $20.4 million contract with Miami after a productive regular and playoff season and is a valuable contributor.

"The G League has improved tremendously," Martin said. "They do a great job even promoting the guys that are playing there. Luckily enough when I was playing there, especially in Greensboro, I was on NBA assignment. So, I had the luxury of being able to play heavy minutes and get plays and get shots.”

Martin’s story is not unusual. Several players have used the G League to establish NBA careers.

What makes Martin’s story different is that he is one of the undrafted Heat players who were overlooked, cast off by other teams and used the G League to improve and land an NBA deal.

It is specific to how the Heat build a roster. Martin, Duncan Robinson, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and Haywood Highsmith are among the undrafted Miami players who have made notable contributions in the playoffs, helping the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference reach the NBA Finals against the Denver Nuggets.

Read Jeff Zillgitt’s full feature on the Heat here.

Nuggets DJ Austin 'Paws the Music' Pawelka speaks on NBA Finals, carrying father's legacy

Austin Pawelka turned heads when, at nine years old, he announced LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony at the 2004 NBA Rising Stars game during All-Star weekend.

He wasn't new to announcing as he had been introducing Denver Nuggets players for a year at the then-Pepsi Center.

Now, he's the official DJ of the Nuggets and will orchestrate Ball Arena in his first NBA Finals.

"It doesn’t really feel like it’s real," Pawelka, who goes by the DJ name "Paws the Music" told USA TODAY Sports. "I think it’s just been such a long time coming and being a fan of this organization for my whole life, I feel like I’m going to wake up tomorrow and it’s going to be like, 'Ok, that wasn’t real. That was just fake. That was a dream.' But no, it’s surreal, it’s exciting. It’s nerve-wracking. It’s any real term you can come up with for a way to feel, I feel like I’m feeling all of them."

Read Victoria Hernandez’s full feature here.

Cable dispute prevents Denver-area Comcast subscribers from watching Nuggets

Since 2019, Denver Nuggets fans in the Denver area who are Comcast cable subscribers have not been able to watch Nuggets games because of a dispute between Comcast and Altitude Sports and Entertainment, the regional sports network owned by Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, which also owns the Nuggets.

Over four seasons, which includes a run to the 2020 Western Conference finals, this season’s NBA Finals appearance and two MVP seasons from Jokic, Comcast customers have been unable to watch one of the best teams in the West.

The dispute centers on carriage fees with Altitude wanting games broadcast to all Comcast customers as part of their cable package and Comcast calling for those who want Altitude Sports to pay a premium fee. The two sides had been locked in a lawsuit and no regular-season games were on Comcast.

"Comcast has been clear all along that we want to make the games available to the fans who want to watch them without making everyone else pay,” the cable company said in a recent statement.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver addressed the topic at two media availabilities, including Friday at an NBA Cares event at a Boys and Girls Club in Denver.

“It's on us that the last thing we want to do is disenfranchise fans,” he said. “Not that it should be any different, but particularly when you have a finals-caliber team out there, when we know there's intense interest in seeing these games. And I'm very sympathetic to fans and I get a lot of emails and I see on social media and just comments while I'm here in town of people saying, 'This makes absolutely no sense that I can't watch these games.' "

How Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray went from bench to leading Nuggets' NBA Finals charge

Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray were reserves for the Denver Nuggets early in the 2016-17 season. It was Murray’s rookie season and Jokic’s second season.

Those with a discerning eye saw the start of what is now apparent to everyone. Jokic and Murray had the skills to become one of the best 1-2 combos in the NBA.

"They're both dynamic," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said ahead of the NBA Finals. "They both can do it on their own, but they also both really complement each other. That's hard to find in this league, when your two best players just absolutely complement each other. They both have scored 50 in a playoff game, and they both can be facilitators.

"I don't think either one of them care how many points they score. It's just about getting the most efficient shot for the offense."

Read Jeff Zillgitt’s full feature on the duo here.

Referees for Game 2 assigned

It will be a different officiating crew from Game 1 for Sunday, as Zach Zarba will be the crew chief for Game 2, with John Goble serving as referee and Courtney Kirkland as umpire. Josh Tiven will be in charge of the replay center.

This is Zarba's 10th Finals, Goble's seventh and Kirkland's third.

Denver Nuggets making their first Finals appearance

The Nuggets are one of six teams who have never won an NBA title. This is their first championship series appearance since losing to Julius Erving and the New York Nets in 1976, after which the wonderful and wacky ABA was disbanded.

— Arnie Stapleton, Associated Press 

Miami Heat roster: Stars like Jimmy Butler, finding hidden gems have Miami in NBA Finals

The Miami Heat like their stars, no question about that.

Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Jimmy Butler.

But the Heat's front office led by Pat Riley, Andy Elisburg and Adam Simon also like their hidden gems and finding players who fit their system − players that other teams may have overlooked, players like Duncan Robinson, Max Strus, Caleb Martin, Gabe Vincent. They were all undrafted, and it’s not unusual to get those kind of players into their system and develop them.

“Quite frankly, we've needed more guys like Gabe and Caleb to show how much they have improved with their player development,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Let’s take a look at how the Heat were built. — Jeff Zillgitt 

Miami Heat vs. Denver Nuggets history

Jimmy Butler says there isn't a rivalry between the Heat and Nuggets. "I don’t think that’s a rivalry. It sounds good. But I don’t even want to get into it. (Jokic) is a hell of a player," Butler told Complex in February 2022.

But the Nuggets and Heat were involved in an altercation on Nov. 8, 2021, that resulted in a suspension for Jokic and a fine for Butler. Jokic shoved Markieff Morris (who's now on the Dallas Mavericks) from behind following a hard foul from Morris. Heat players were upset at what they perceived to be a cheap shot from Jokic and Butler could be seen telling Jokic to "bring your (expletive) to the back." A viral photo showed Butler, Kyle Lowry and Bam Adebayo lined up outside the Nuggets' locker room postgame.

Jokic was ejected from the game and received a one-game suspension. Morris received a flagrant foul, $50,000 fine for his role and subsequently missed 58 games with whiplash. Butler received a technical foul and $30,000 fine "for attempting to escalate the altercation and failing to comply with an NBA Security interview as part of the review process pertaining to an on-court matter," the league said. But it appears to be water under the bridge.

“I don't think it has too much to do with anything, this thing in the past," Butler said Wednesday. “It's high-level competition. But I will say I wasn't talking to Jokic. That wasn't my beef. Make sure you write that.”

Said Denver coach Michael Malone: “It hasn't come up in any of my thoughts, discussions, narratives. That's a question probably more suited for the Miami Heat. For us, all we're worried about is winning Game 1. That's our sole focus. None of the storylines that accompany this series are going to distract us from that focus.” — Cydney Henderson and Jeff Zillgitt

NBA Finals uniform schedule for Heat and Nuggets

Here is which uniform each team will wear for each game, via the NBA’s LockerVision:

Game 2

  • Heat: All white Association Edition with Heat on the front of the jersey.

  • Nuggets: All navy blue Icon Edition with Denver on the front of the jersey.

Game 1: Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo shoots the ball against Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon (50) during the third quarter.
Game 1: Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo shoots the ball against Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon (50) during the third quarter.

Game 3

 Game 4

How does Denver's Michael Porter Jr. focus in NBA Finals? By writing in gratitude journal.

Mornings are the best time for Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. to open a journal and begin writing. He uses pen and paper and says it’s good for his mind and body.

"Definitely try to take time to reflect and be grateful," Porter said. "I try to do gratefulness journaling and just reflect during this journey on all the things there are to be grateful for, but at the same time just stay hungry, keep working, never let up."

There’s plenty of which Porter has to be grateful. He plays a significant role for the Nuggets.

Porter had 14 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks in Denver’s Game 1 104-93 victory Thursday. In the playoffs, Porter averages 14.6 points and 8.3 rebounds and shoots 44.3% from the field and 38.6% on 3-pointers.

On an underappreciated team, the 6-10 Porter is an underappreciated part of the success, bringing a gifted offensive game and improved defensive routine to a team that is playing great basketball at the perfect time.

Read Jeff Zillgitt’s full feature on Porter Jr. here.

Can Heat slow potent Nuggets? ‘We’re definitely going to have to go to school on it’

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra likes to talk about going "into the cave" with his coaching staff to prepare for the next game.

They find answers in that room, and that’s why the eighth-seeded Heat are in the NBA Finals.

After Game 1 against the Denver Nuggets, endless time in the cave might not be enough to solve Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Jokic registered his NBA-record ninth triple-double in a single postseason and 14th overall with 27 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds. Murray had 26 points, 10 assists and six rebounds.

The Heat can allow one of those players to have that kind of game but not both — at least if they want to have a chance at winning the title.

"We’re definitely going to have to go to school on it," Spoelstra said.

Miami might not have the personnel, especially size-wise, to do much about it in this series. Of course, Spoelstra and his staff will try, but it’s a puzzle no team in the playoffs has solved.

— Jeff Zillgitt 

Mile-High NBA advantage: Denver altitude helps Nuggets go unbeaten at home in playoffs

Joking around before the start of the NBA Finals, Charles Barkley and Grant Hill took hits from oxygen masks they brought onto the set for a pregame TV show.

But the thin air in Denver is no joke. There's a reason it's known as the Mile High City.

The city sits 5,280 feet above sea level and there’s plenty of science that shows just how altitude impacts any athlete — including basketball players. The Denver Nuggets have been using the lung-searing elevation to their advantage for years — especially during these playoffs.

With their 104-93 win over the Miami Heat on Thursday, the Nuggets improved to 9-0 at home during their postseason run. Yes, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and friends have a lot to do with it. But altitude deserves an assist. The Nuggets try to push the pace to make the Heat feel the burn coming in from sea level.

— Pat Graham, Associated Press

With escape room planned, Miami Heat's Jimmy Butler delivers masterclass in leadership 

The weight of a team is never on one person. That weight is not distributed evenly either. For the Miami Heat, Jimmy Butler absorbs the heft of championship expectations. He invites the burden, wants the responsibility.

It’s how he pushed and pulled, carried and dragged the Heat to the 2020 NBA Finals, to seven games against Boston in last season’s Eastern Conference finals, to this season’s seven-game victory against the Celtics in the conference finals and to this season’s Finals against the Denver Nuggets.

Butler can’t win the NBA Finals against the Nuggets by himself, but the Heat also can’t win the title with Butler having the performance he did in Denver’s 104-93 victory in Game 1 on Thursday.

He had an unaffecting 13 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. He knows he needs to be better in Game 2 on Sunday in Denver.

"I just think I've got to do a better job of getting the ball, demanding the ball, being more aggressive (at the rim)," Butler said. "That's just that, and that will change come Game 2. ...

"They definitely follow suit whenever I'm aggressive on both sides of the ball. So I have to be the one to come out and kick that off the right way, which I will, and we'll see where we end up."

Read Jeff Zillgitt’s full piece on Butler here.

Nuggets vs. Heat prediction

The Heat will have trouble stopping both Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, and what it takes to defend them has an impact on Miami’s offense. Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Caleb Martin will be tasked with heavy lifting defensively. Denver’s offense is relentless with its options, and that will wear down Miami in the series. As long as the Nuggets aren't complacent, this is a series they should win. Prediction: Nuggets win the series in five games.

— Jeff Zillgitt

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NBA Finals Game 2 score: Miami Heat beat Denver Nuggets, Nikola Jokic