Livescore Thursday, April 25

The Nuggets took Game 1 of the NBA Finals in impressive fashion and had viewers ready to purchase broomsticks for a sweep, but the Heat fought right back to steal Game 2 on the road.

Denver dropped its first home game of the entire postseason, and it came on a night when superstar center Nikola Jokic exploded for his third 40-point game of the playoffs.

After Game 2, a viral moment in Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra’s press conference quickly made the rounds on social media. ESPN reporter Ramona Shelburne asked Spoelstra a question about Miami’s defensive strategy against Jokic, and it clearly struck a chord with the Heat’s leader.

“This is probably over-simplifying things but sometimes when teams play against Jokic, you turn him into a scorer or turn him into a passer with how he controls the game. He only had four assists tonight,” Shelburne stated before getting cut off.

“Yeah, that’s a ridiculous… it’s just the untrained eye that says something like that,” Spoelstra began. “This guy is an incredible player. Twice, in two seasons, he’s been the best player on this planet. You can’t just say, ‘Oh, make him a scorer.’ That’s not how they play, they have so many different actions. We have to focus on what we do. He requires you to do many things the hard way and he has our full respect.”

Was it a part of Miami’s strategy in Game 2 to turn Jokic into a scorer? There’s some evidence to back it up.

MORE: Five reasons why Heat’s Game 2 win could provide formula to win the Finals

Inside the Heat’s Game 2 defensive strategy vs. Nikola Jokic

In Game 1, Jokic went for 27 points on 12 field goal attempts and 12 free throw attempts. His first registered field goal attempt didn’t come until there were 3.3 seconds left in the first quarter. Instead of approaching his first-ever NBA Finals game with an aggressive scoring mindset, Jokic dished out six assists in the first frame, which is more than he had in all of Game 2 (4).

Jokic finished with 14 assists — tied for his second-most of the playoffs — and created 31 points for his team as a passer. That’s a total of 58 points that Jokic was responsible for in the Game 1 win.

In Game 2, it was a completely different story. Jokic finished with 41 points on 28 field goal attempts, which would have been the most shot attempts of the entire regular season for the two-time MVP. He has only attempted 28 or more field goals four times this season, all of which have come in the playoffs.

Miami seemed to instead focus on shutting down Denver’s other scoring outlets, holding Jokic to a playoff-low four assists, which created just nine points for his team. Even with Jokic’s massive scoring night, he was still responsible for fewer total points in the Game 2 loss (50) than he was in the Game 1 win (58).

Even if Spoelstra denied that it was part of the Heat’s strategy to “turn (Jokic) into a scorer,” the Nuggets’ record in these playoffs when Jokic has big scoring nights shows that there might be something to that idea.

MORE: What does Tyler Herro’s potential return mean for the Heat?

As The Sporting News’ Jordan Greer pointed out, Denver is now 0-3 in Jokic’s three highest-scoring games and 4-4 when he scores 30 or more points. When he scores less than 30 points, the Nuggets are a perfect 9-0.

This isn’t to say Miami was giving Jokic a runway to the rim. He still had to battle the Heat’s physical defense to earn his buckets. But Miami didn’t double team Jokic nearly as much when he got a mismatch in the post. Instead, help defenders would stunt quickly before returning to their man, staying home to prevent Jokic from finding open shooters or cutters.

Jokic’s final bucket of the game was a great example of that. The Heat were willing to live with him attacking Gabe Vincent 1-on-1 for a layup in a crucial moment as opposed to leaving Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. or Bruce Brown open on the perimeter.

In Game 1, Miami was doubling in a lot of those situations, allowing Jokic’s playmaking brilliance to shine as he found wide-open teammates for great looks.

Perhaps the Heat decided that they needed to pick their poison and living with Jokic’s scoring was the lesser of two evils. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that the Nuggets came up short in a contest where Jokic had one of his biggest scoring games of the postseason.

Either way, if we’re going by the old adage, the 2023 NBA Finals has officially started now that a team has won on the road.

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