June 6, 2023 | By Rory Carroll |
(Reuters) – Underdog Miami’s chances of overcoming the odds and beating the favored Nuggets will hinge on big man Bam Adebayo’s success in containing dynamic Denver center Nikola Jokic, his teammates said on Tuesday.
The series shifts from high-altitude Denver to the humid beaches of Miami after the Heat pulled off a gutsy fourth quarter comeback win on Sunday to even the series 1-1.
“Bam has been playing incredibly well this entire playoffs, for sure this series, and this one he got the toughest matchup by far on the defensive side of the ball,” Heat forward Jimmy Butler told reporters on Tuesday.
“And on the offensive end, he’s doing everything for us. We need him to continue to be that.
“Like I said, he’s going to be the reason why we win a championship.”
Adebayo said the key to guarding two-time MVP Jokic was limiting his passing, a bright spot for the Heat in Game Two where the Serb scored 41 points but was held to just four assists.
The Heat squeaked into the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed and have since been giant slayers, taking down the top-seeded Bucks, the Knicks and the Celtics with gritty team wins to reach the finals.
Adebayo offered no apologies for their gritty style.
“Everybody thinks basketball is always supposed to be pretty, it’s supposed to be fluid,” he said.
“That’s not how we do it. It’s rugged, it’s in the mud, it’s nasty basketball. We don’t care how it looks. It gets wins.”
More than anything, Adebayo and the Heat are motivated by the opportunity to atone for their Finals loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA bubble in 2020.
“Just sitting there, seeing the confetti fall and none of this is for us,” he said, shaking his head.
“And you walk back into the locker room. That was a gut punch.”
Game Three is on Wednesday in Miami.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)