DENVER — The Miami Heat set an NBA postseason record for fewest free throw attempts in a game, going to the foul line just twice during a 104-93 loss to the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night.
Afterward, Heat star Jimmy Butler vowed to attack the basket more heading into Game 2 on Sunday night. He didn’t hesitate when asked why the offense struggled so much to find its rhythm.
“Probably because we shot a lot of jump shots, myself probably leading that pack, instead of putting pressure on the rim,” Butler said after scoring just 13 points. “Getting lay-ups, getting to the free throw line. When you look at it during the game, they all look like the right shots.
“And I’m not saying that we can’t as a team make those, but got to get more layups, got to get more free throws. And whenever you miss and don’t get back, the game gets out of hand kind of quickly. We gave up too many lay-ups, which we also can’t have happen. But that’s it as a whole. We’ve got to attack the rim a lot more, myself included.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he liked the 3-point attempts his team was getting, but credited the Nuggets’ defense for the way they set the tone.
“You have to credit them with their size and really protecting the paint and bringing a third defender,” Spoelstra said. “Things have to be done with a lot more intention and a lot more pace, a lot more detail. We are an aggressive, attacking team, and so if we are not getting those kind of opportunities at the rim or at the free throw line, we have to find different ways to be able to do it.”
The Heat fell into an early hole against Nikola Jokic and company in large part because the open looks that Butler and his teammates made a habit of hitting earlier in the postseason just didn’t fall. Heat guard Max Strus went 0-for-10 from the field, becoming the fourth player to shoot that or worse in a Finals game, according to ESPN Stats and Information research. Caleb Martin, who carried the Heat offensively at times in the Eastern Conference finals, went 1-for-7 from the field.
“I like everything that we did offensively,” Strus said. “We can do a little more intentional, but the looks we got, we’ll live with those. We know we’re better shooters than that.”
Martin echoed a similar sentiment.
“I love the looks, and I think we’ll get more looks,” he said. “I think this game was kind of a figure-it-out game, well, figure it out half. I think we started to figure it out the second half, but the looks that we got, the shots that we missed, it’s kind of laughable. We’re much better shooters than we shot tonight.”
The Heat lost a Game 1 in a series for the first time this postseason, but Spoelstra remained confident, saying he believes his group will rally around each other the same way it has done throughout the last month and a half. He said he did not think he needed to say anything extra to Strus and Vincent to help them find a rhythm.
“They are fine,” Spoelstra said. “I mean, they are not going to get sick at sea. If they are shooters, you’re not always going to be able to make all the shots that you want. Then you have to find different ways to impact the game.
“Our game is not built just on the 3-point ball. We have proven that time and time again. We can win games. We can win series, regardless of how the 3 is going. But we also have ignitable guys. You see a couple go through and that also can become an avalanche. One way or the other, we have to find a way to get the job done.”
Butler said he believes he will respond to the initial setback and set a better tone in Game 2.
“You’ve got to attack and attack everybody, not just one individual,” Butler said. “I have to do a better job of creating the help, one, two guys, and getting to my shooter, otherwise finishing at the rim, making shots.
“But we missed a lot tonight, and we’ll be better in Game 2. At the end of the day, that’s what it is, and we’ll take this and we’ll learn from it, and we’ll be back in two days.”
Jimmy Butler urges Heat to attack after record-low 2 FTs in Game 1