Heat need to match Nuggets physicality – Butler

Heat need to match Nuggets physicality – Butler

DENVER: Miami star Jimmy Butler called on his teammates to match Denver’s physicality after the Nuggets overpowered the Heat to win Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday (Friday in Manila).

A Denver side inspired by the towering figure of Nikola Jokic proved too strong for Miami, leading almost from start to finish at the Ball Arena to clinch a 104-93 victory.

Jokic later said Denver had been determined to land the “first punch” of the series, and Butler admitted Miami would need to up their physicality over the rest of the series.

“They came out with a lot of physicality, and we have to be able to match that,” Butler said.

“They did their job on their home floor, you have to say that, but we will be ready.

“We will adjust, and we will do some things very differently and come out here and be ready to give more for Game 2.”

Miami trailed by as many as 24 points in the third quarter before closing the gap in the fourth.

Butler maintained that Miami’s performance would “look way worse than it really is” when the team pores over footage of Game 1 ahead of Game 2 on Sunday.

“But that’s the only way you’re going to learn from it,” said Butler, who was restricted to just 13 points from 6-of-14 shooting in a subdued performance.

Butler, who made no trips to the foul line throughout, vowed to take a more aggressive approach in Game 2 on Sunday (Monday in Manila) when Miami tries to square the series.

“Maybe I have to be a little bit more aggressive,” he said. “I’ve got to put pressure on the rim. Me with no free throws, that was all on myself, nobody else.

“So we’ll definitely correct that the next game, but only I can do that.”

Jokic never forces it

Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) Nikola Jokic knows how to let the game come to him — and the Denver Nuggets star wasn’t about to start forcing things on the biggest stage of all.

“I think that’s the beauty of Nikola,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

“I learned a long time ago the defense tells you what to do, and Nikola never forces it.”

The Serbian star, who won league MVP honors in 2021 and 2022 but didn’t make it to the Finals until this season, didn’t attempt his first basket until the waning seconds of the first quarter.

But he had 10 assists by halftime as Denver took control early against a Heat team that had won the opening game on the road in each of the previous three rounds.

“If they’re going to give him that kind of attention… he’s going to just pick you apart,” Malone said of Jokic, who kicked out to a teammate for an open three-pointer twice in the first half when the Heat had him covered in the post.

“Nikola never tries to impose his will or force things that aren’t there. He’s going to read the game. He’s going to make the right play. Most importantly he’s going to make every one of his teammates better.”

Jokic, who had just three shot attempts in the first half — and made all of them — would end up leading the Nuggets with 27 points, adding 10 rebounds and 14 assists in his 15th playoff triple double — his ninth of this post-season.

Teammate Jamal Murray added 26 points and 10 assists as five Denver players scored in double figures.

“One thing about Nikola is he takes great satisfaction in making plays for others,” Malone said. “He really does. I think he takes more joy in that.

“I don’t think he cares if he scored 27 points or not. He cares that we’re up 1-0.”

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