Denver (AFP) – The Miami Heat handed the Denver Nuggets their first home defeat of the playoffs Sunday, surging in the fourth quarter for a 111-108 victory that leveled the NBA Finals at one game apiece.
Gabe Vincent scored 23 points and Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo scored 21 points apiece for Miami, who withstood a 41-point performance from Nuggets star Nikola Jokic to get the split in Denver and breathe new life into the championship campaign.
In a game of swinging shifts of momentum, the Heat had the last word, rallying from a 15-point first-half deficit and out-scoring the Nuggets 36-25 in the final period as they silenced the crowd of 19,537 at Ball Arena.
Adebayo sealed it with a pair of free-throws with 48.3 seconds remaining.
Denver had a last chance to tie it, but Jamal Murray missed a three-pointer.
“We know we’ve got to do it on the defensive end,” Adebayo said of Miami’s fourth-quarter focus. “That’s the biggest thing for us. We got to do it on that end because we know we can score, all five guys we believe in. So the biggest thing for us was getting stops.”
Miami, who came through two play-in games and are trying to become the first eighth-seeded team to win the title, host game three of the best-of-seven series on Wednesday.
“We gutted out one on their home court, so time to go back to the 305,” Adebayo said referencing the Miami area code.
Miami, who were dominated in a game one defeat, vowed to step it up and they started strong, leading by 11 with less than five minutes to play in the first quarter.
But the Nuggets remorselessly fought back and were up by 15 in the second quarter on the way to a 57-51 halftime lead.
Denver’s second quarter turnaround owed plenty to their bench, which out-scored Miami’s reserves 25-5 in the first half.
But it was two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Jokic who asserted himself in the third, scoring 18 points in the period as Denver turned back the challenge of the Heat.
Miami tied it up at 66-66 midway through the period but didn’t manage to get back in front and trailed by eight, 83-75 after Denver closed the third on a 6-0 run.
Fourth quarter surge
Miami weren’t finished however, opening the fourth on a 15-2 scoring run.
They took the lead for the first time since the first quarter on Vincent’s three-pointer with 10:10 to play and never trailed again.
A Butler three-pointer pushed the lead to 95-89 and he followed up with a three-point play.
After a disappointing shooting display in game one, the Heat connected on 17 of 35 from beyond the arc on Sunday.
Max Strus, who didn’t score a basket in game one, led all scorers in the first half with 14 points.
They connected on 11 of their 16 attempts in the fourth quarter, including five of nine from three-point range.
Perhaps more importantly, after getting to the free-throw line just twice in game one, the Heat converted 18 of 20 foul shots.
Although Miami battled through a tough season, they are in the finals for a seventh time in search of a fourth title.
Western Conference top seeds Denver, who were 9-0 at home in this post-season, are trying to lift the Larry O’Brien championship trophy for the first time.
The Nuggets had never before reached the championship series.