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"It's the f*cking Finals, man" -- power-ranking the Game 2 postgame quotes
This has been a superb series for soundbites...but what were people really saying?
An emotional NBA Finals Game 2 made for some fantastic and revealing postgame quotes from coaches and players. Here are a few of my favorites and what they illuminate about the series so far.
4) "You take a timeout, you let them get set, you let them review whatever play they think that we’re going to run and there’s a great chance that we don’t get a quality shot like Jamal got, which was on line and from my perspective, looked like it had a great chance of going in. And we’ve seen Jamal make shots like that before." — Denver coach Michael Malone, on whether he should have called a timeout before Jamal Murray’s last-second miss
Here’s the last shot of the game, a three-point miss from Jamal Murray:
Is it a great look? No. Murray and Jokic ran the pick-and-roll by instinct, but it led to a Jimmy Butler switch. Murray could’ve been better off attacking Gabe Vincent in isolation, perhaps. But he still got a relatively clean shot off that, as Malone pointed out, he’s made plenty of times in the past. It’s unlikely that Denver gets a significantly better attempt after a timeout, especially since they had to shoot a three.
Not calling a timeout for the last play has become more popular — we saw Jimmy Butler and Miami take the same approach recently. Going live with the ball means the other team can’t sub in their best defenders, can’t necessarily start with the matchups they want, and can’t draw up something (like a zone) to mess up the offense’s rhythm. NBA offenses are far likelier to score in transition or semi-transition than against a set defense in the halfcourt.
While the result wasn’t what Nuggets fans wanted, the process was sound. (Plus, basketball is just so much more exciting to watch without extraneous timeouts!)
3) “I surprised myself with the fact that I pulled that one out…I don’t get a lot of moments throughout the season to break that one out, so when you get one, you gotta try to take advantage of it, I guess. I play my best when I’m having fun.” — Miami reserve Duncan Robinson on his hilarious mean-mug after a tough layup
The Heat roster is littered with players performing well above their 2023 regular-season level, but Robinson’s resurgence has been particularly important. While others, like Caleb Martin and Gabe Vincent, are steadier two-way players, nobody on the Heat changes the on-court geometry of the team and its opponent quite like Robinson does.
Miami loves to run zone when Robinson is on the floor, where his footslowness and foul-prone tendencies are mitigated and his 6’7” height can be useful. Offensively, his constant off-ball movement and hair-trigger release force defenders to glue themselves to his waist. Any lapse in concentration or momentary hesitation results in a backdoor cut or deep bomb (he’s shooting an outrageous 44% from downtown these playoffs after canning just 32% during his struggle-bus regular season).
He’s even showing off some new off-the-bounce chops, surprising defenders who haven’t realized Duncan can dribble now — his dribbles-per-touch in the playoffs is far higher than any regular season mark he’s ever posted.
Robinson’s gravity is such that the entire gameplans of both Miami and its opponents change the second he enters the game. Few, if any, other bench players in the league have that kind of outsized impact. So after a down couple of years, Robinson deserves to have a little fun.
2) “Yeah, that’s a ridiculous — that’s the untrained eye that says something like that.” — Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, when asked about turning Jokic into a scorer
ESPN’s respected Ramona Shelburne was admittedly “oversimplifying” when she asked Erik Spoelstra about teams turning Jokic into a scorer instead of a passer, but boy howdy did Spoelstra not like the question. The full exchange is here. (Many people are chastising Spoelstra for being rude to Ramona, but to me, it sounds like Spoelstra is pushing back against the narrative, not attacking Shelburne specifically).
Look, Spoelstra is a master of coach-speak. He’s not keen on letting anyone have any insight on the Heat’s past, present, or future gameplans, or on giving any potential bulletin-board material.
But did the Heat want to turn Jokic into a scorer? Spoelstra, clearly, would not phrase it like that. Instead, Miami was determined to shut down Aaron Gordon and Jamal Murray after both devastated the Heat in Game 1, dusting off big man Kevin Love to take away the brutal post-ups Gordon unleashed in the first game (Gordon was just 1-for-3 in 29 possessions with Love as the primary defender) and siccing Jimmy Butler on Jamal Murray to slow the star guard. Miami defenders also stuck closer to shooters Michael Porter Jr. and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to eliminate the easy catch-and-shoot threes they’d gotten in Game 1 (even though MPJ, especially, missed a bunch in both games).
Regardless of the semantics, however, the end result was the same: Jokic didn’t have the passing lanes he filled so adroitly in Game 1, so he rumbled his way to the hoop and dropped 41 points on 28 field goal attempts.
41 points on 28 shot attempts ( 7-for-8 from the charity stripe, 2-for-5 from deep) sounds… pretty good, right? That’s the thing: the Nuggets’ offensive rating was actually substantially better in Game 2 than in Game 1. So whether the Heat explicitly wanted to turn Jokic into a scorer or not, he was a highly efficient and voluminous one. Denver’s offense sang. But the Heat’s offense was monumentally better than in the first go-round, and that was the difference between the two games.
It’s pretty apparent what the Heat wanted to do, even though it didn’t work. I’ll be closely watching to see what Spoelstra wants to take away in Game 3.
1) “It’s the f*cking Finals, man.” — Nuggets reserve Jeff Green, bemoaning his team’s lack of energy
Coach Mike Malone famously said that the Nuggets played poorly in Game 1, but Denver’s comfortable victory made his words ring hollow.
But Denver’s defense gave up plenty of open looks in Game 1 that Miami didn’t convert. In Game 2, they did, and far too many came from strange Nuggets’ defensive miscommunications and lapses.
Malone, Green, Murray, and others spoke at length about the Nuggets’ lack of energy and discipline after Game 2. Miami’s constant-motion offense will generate some open looks against anybody, but Denver too often tripped and fell flat on their faces.
Denver defenders particularly struggled whenever Miami “slipped” the screen (having the screener release and relocate before making physical contact on the screen). Watch as Strus slips to the corner. As an angry Kentavious Caldwell-Pope points desperately for the switch, Michael Porter Jr. refuses to follow:
MPJ in particular had a terrible defensive game, but he was hardly the only one. Caldwell-Pope fouled two different three-point shooters, one of the biggest no-nos in the game. Jamal Murray didn’t put up much fight against, well, anybody. Rookie Christian Braun impressed in the first half but got outplayed by Duncan Robinson in the second. Green, Gordon, and even the normally stalwart Bruce Brown had communication issues, too.
Denver has been so good all postseason long that they haven’t really been tested. They have never been a dominant defensive team, but they don’t have to be; they just need to be good enough to prop up their jet-fuel offense. In the playoffs, they had been better than that. A championship for the long-suffering Nuggets faithful seemed inevitable.
And frankly, it still does. Miami played very well, Denver made a bunch of silly but easy-to-fix mistakes, and the Heat still only squeaked out a three-point win. It’s easy to project a comfortable Nuggets’ series victory.
But sample sizes don’t matter in the playoffs (just ask Milwaukee and Boston), and the teams head to Miami tied 1-1. We have a best-of-five series right now, and a handful of bad or good plays could swing the title. It’s the f*cking Finals, man. Miami knows what that means. Does Denver?
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