FOX Sports NBA Writer
Jimmy Butler took a moment to mentally reboot after his underperforming 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 running and running around Denver with his daughter. He played spades that night, adding, “Things weren’t going too well for me.” And after Saturday’s heat practice, he said he was planning to go to an escape room.
“I just do normal things because at the end of the day I’m as normal as it gets,” Butler said Saturday. “It’s not always just about basketball. It will never always be about basketball. This is how I regroup.”
Butler — who 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 averaged this postseason.
He blamed himself, adding that the Nuggets’ backline defenders Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. were not the reason for his wrongdoing.
“I just think I need to get the ball better, challenge the ball and be more aggressive,” Butler said. “It is exactly that. And that will change in Game 2. Yes, they have some really good defenders. But I’ve seen really good defenders before.”
Butler wasn’t alone in his offensive struggles. Max Strus was 0 of 10 off the field. Duncan Robinson was 1 of 6. Caleb Martin was 1 of 7. Bam Adebayo’s 26 points, Gabe Vincent’s 19 points and Haywood Highsmith’s 18 points were pretty much the only offensive bright spots for the Heat.
For three quarters, the Heat were 55.9% to 35.5% overfield and beyond the 3-point line 42.1% to 25.9%.
In the fourth quarter, they turned things around, shooting 60% from the field and 50% from long range to reduce the gap from 24 points to just nine points. But by that point they had already dug themselves into too big a hole, allowing the Nuggets, among other things, to shoot 20 free throws while only attempting two.
No one expects the Heat to do so poorly in Game 2, especially Nuggets coach Michael Malone, who thinks his team got lucky on Thursday.
“I don’t think we played well in Game 1,” Malone said. “I watched the video and they were 5 out of 16 in a totally open threesome. As I told our players this morning, the fact that they had 16 wide open threes is problematic. And if you think Max Strus is going [0-for-10] once again [from beyond the arc] or Duncan Robinson will play 1:5 again, you are wrong.”
The heat feels similar.
When asked if he would like to say anything to Strus and Martin ahead of Game 2, Butler underlined how much confidence he had in both role players who shone this postseason.
“Yeah, I gotta tell them, ‘I’m going to throw you the ball anyway,'” Butler said. “‘And if you miss the next 10 if you’re open on the 11th, I’ll still throw you the ball.'”
Despite losing their first game of the postseason, the Heat are very confident they can win this series.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra paid tribute to “triple-double machine” Nikola Jokic and sniper Jamal Murray, 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, presented no more of a challenge than he felt his team could handle.
“They don’t play ducks,” Spoelstra said. “It’s not easy competition. You have to find a way to overcome them, even when great players are playing great. We have proven that. And we can win and win regardless of how the game goes.”
So before Game 2 both teams are confident.
Malone said he woke up excited Saturday morning knowing his team had made so many mistakes in Game 1 but still won. These included messing up his pick-and-roll defense, not reducing the playing field enough, and allowing the Heat to hit 11 offensive rebounds.
His biggest challenge is preventing his team from building false trust.
His message to the Nuggets: “Don’t read the newspaper. Don’t listen to people on the radio and TV saying that this series is over and that we did something because we didn’t do anything at all.”
The Heat is doing well too.
Butler cleared his head after taking some time off from basketball. He will be much more aggressive in Game 2. And he’s adamant his teammates will follow suit, refusing to be seasick from a few misses, knowing full well that they could ignite at any moment.
“Lost 1-0,” said Butler, “we know we’ll get to four. We laugh, smile and know we can play better. We’ll play better.”
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has 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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