Sunday, September 24 2023

Jimmy Butler took a moment to mentally reset after his subpar performance in the Miami Heat’s 104-93 loss to the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday,  

He spent Friday “ripping and running” around Denver with his daughter. That evening, he played spades, adding it “didn’t go so well for me.” And after Heat practice Saturday, he said he planned to go to an Escape Room.

“Just doing normal stuff, because at the end of the day, I’m as normal as they come,” Butler said Saturday. “It’s not always about basketball. It will never always be about basketball. That’s how I regroup.”

Butler, who has averaged a career-high 27.6 points this postseason, had just 13 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in Game 1, the fewest points he has scored this postseason. 

He blamed himself, adding that the Nuggets’ backline defenders of Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. weren’t the reason for his off game. 

“I just think I’ve got to do a better job of getting the ball, demanding the ball, being more aggressive,” Butler said.” That’s just that. And that will change come Game 2. Yes, they do have some really good defenders. But I have seen really good defenders before.”

Butler wasn’t alone in his offensive struggles. Max Strus was 0-for-10 from the field. Duncan Robinson was 1-for-6. Caleb Martin was 1-for-7. (Bam Adebayo’s 26 points, Gabe Vincent’s 19 points and Haywood Highsmith’s 18 points were pretty much the lone offensive bright spots for the Heat.)


Through three quarters, the Heat were outshot from the field, 55.9 percent to 35.5 percent, and from beyond the 3-point line, 42.1 percent to 25.9 percent.

In the fourth quarter, they turned things around, shooting 60 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc to cut their 24-point deficit to a few as nine points. But, by that point, they had dug themselves into too big of a hole, including allowing the Nuggets to shoot 20 free throws while only attempting two.

No one is expecting the Heat to be as off in Game 2, especially not Nuggets coach Michael Malone, who believes his team got lucky Thursday. 

“I don’t think we played well in Game 1,” Malone said. “I watched that tape, and they were 5-of-16 on wide-open 3s. As I told our players this morning, the fact that they got 16 wide-open 3s is problematic. And if you think that Max Strus is going to go 0-for-9 again [from beyond the arc] or Duncan Robinson is going to go 1-for-5 again, you’re wrong.”

The Heat feel similarly. 

When Butler was asked if he plans on saying anything to Strus and Martin ahead of Game 2, he emphasized how much confidence he has in both role players who have shined this postseason. 

“Yeah, I need to say to them, ‘I’m still going to throw you the ball,'” Butler said. “‘And if you miss the next 10, if you’re open on that 11th one, I’m still going to throw you the ball.'”

Despite losing their first Game 1 of the postseason, the Heat are very confident they can win this series.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra paid homage to “triple-double machine” Nikola Jokic and sharpshooter Jamal Murray, who are both capable of scoring 50 points in a playoff game. But he added that the Nuggets superstars, who combined for 53 points in Game 1, don’t pose a bigger challenge than he believes his team can meet.

“You’re not playing ducks,” Spoelstra said. “You’re not playing easy competition. You have to find a way to overcome it, even if great players are playing great. We have proven that. And we can win and overcome regardless of how the game is going.”

So, heading into Game 2, both teams are feeling confident. 

Malone said he woke up Saturday morning excited knowing his team made many mistakes in Game 1 but still won, including messing up their pick-and-roll defense, not shrinking the floor enough and allowing the Heat to get 11 offensive rebounds.

His biggest challenge is preventing his team from getting any sort of false confidence. 

His message to the Nuggets: “Don’t read the paper, don’t listen to the folks on the radio and TV saying that this series is over and that we’ve done something, because we haven’t done a damn thing.”

As for the Heat, they’re feeling good, too. 

Butler cleared his mind after taking some time away from basketball. 

He’s going to be much more aggressive in Game 2. And he has full faith that his teammates will follow suit and refuse to get seasick from a few missed shots, knowing full-well that they can ignite at any moment. 

“Down 0-1,” Butler said, “We know we are going to get to four. We are in there laughing, in there smiling, knowing that we could play better. We will play better.”

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.

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