MIAMI – Erik Spoelstra won’t be getting any sleep after Game 4.
And he’d understand if his Miami Heat players felt the same way, too.
The Heat are staring down the barrel of a 3-1 series deficit after a 108-95 loss in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Friday night at Kaseya Center.
“All we’re focused on is getting this thing back to the ‘305.’ And things can shift really quickly,” Spoelstra said as encouraged as he could be about Monday’s Game 5, as if Miami didn’t suffer its fourth straight loss at home this postseason.
“By (the) time we get back on the plane, all we’re thinking about is getting this back to Miami.”
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The Heat’s plane will return home to Miami one way or another.
This Heat group has already taken down one No. 1 seed in these playoffs, but taking down another – down 3-1 with the NBA title on the line – might be too tall of a task.
“We have to (win). We have no other choice,” Heat star Jimmy Butler said. “Otherwise, we did all this for no reason.”
Nuggets star Nikola Jokic – who had a 30-point, 20-rebound triple-double in Game 3 – had an off night by his standards.
Jokic twisted his right ankle on Heat guard Max Strus’ foot in the first quarter. He got his fifth foul with 9:24 left in the game, with the Heat trailing by 13.
But the Heat just couldn’t take advantage with Jokic out of the game. They closed the gap to six points, but ran dry in the worst way, making just three field goals in the final six minutes.
On the other end, Aaron Gordon led Denver with 27 points and backup Bruce Brown put the game away with 11 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter. Jokic had 23 points, 12 rebounds and four assists, while Jamal Murray had 15 points and 12 assists – after having a triple-double of his own in Game 3.
And the Nuggets are one win away from their first championship in their 47-year history.
“I’ve been in those games, Game 5. Those are not the easiest games at home,” Spoelstra said.
Sure, the Heat just saw the Celtics come back from a 3-0 deficit to force a Game 7 against them in the Eastern Conference finals. They overcame that challenge to win the winner-take-all game in Boston.
And sure, a team has come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals before. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers did it against the Golden State Warriors in 2016 to win the team’s first championship. Kevin Love was on that Cavs team, and he sparked this Heat team Friday with nine of his 12 points in the third quarter when Miami needed it most.
“A lot of people (are) pissed off,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said. “But biggest thing is, first to four. That’s the biggest thing. … We take it one game at a time and we figure this thing out.”
Butler, who had 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, has been effective but far from the dominant “Playoff Jimmy” he was earlier in the playoffs before twisting his right ankle against the Knicks.
Adebayo, 25, has taken on one of the toughest assignments in NBA history against Jokic, the two-time NBA MVP and runner-up for the award this season. He’s still scratching the surface of how to play the most effectively, after finishing with 20 points and 11 rebounds on 8 of 19 shooting.
The Heat’s cast of role players have contributed. Kyle Lowry had 13 points in the first half Friday. Duncan Robinson had 12 points. Caleb Martin finished with 11. But Strus and Gabe Vincent – Miami’s starting guards – killed the synergy by shooting a combined 1-for-10 in the biggest game of the season.
“I got too much faith in my guys. Their shots will fall. They have been the reason behind us winning so many games, and I’m not letting that faith in them waver,” Butler said after the Heat averaged 31.6% from 3-point range in Games 3 and 4.
“I won’t do it. I’m going to continue to play basketball the right way, pump confidence in those guys, and we are going to always live with the result.”
Miami is one the grittiest franchises in all of sports. You can thank Pat Riley for laying the blueprint. Spoelstra for being the enforcer to see the vision through.
This isn’t the same group that won a championship with Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal in 2006, or the one that won two championships with Wade, James and Chris Bosh a decade ago.
This group – built on relentless overachieving and intangibles – seem to be no match for all-time great players like Jokic in these Finals or James and Anthony Davis in 2020.
The Heat are down.
They’re not out.
But the writing is on the wall. And the end is near.
“That’s our reality, so we’ve got to go out and win three straight,” Butler said.