MIAMI — Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler vowed to set a better tone for his team in the wake of Wednesday’s 109-94 loss to the Denver Nuggets in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, acknowledging that the Heat, playing in their first Finals game in front of a home crowd in nine years, needed to come out with more energy and effort, especially after getting outrebounded by the Nuggets, 58-33.
The Heat now trail the series, 2-1.
“I don’t know,” Butler said, when asked why the energy is lacking. “I can’t answer that. Maybe we’re at home; we think we did something. I don’t know. It just can’t happen. It won’t happen again. It starts with myself. I have to lock in on the defensive end. I have to go up and get loose balls. I think if I start playing and doing that, then everybody else has to follow suit.”
Aside from the fact that Nuggets stars Nikola Jokic (32 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists) and Jamal Murray (34 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists) became the first pair of teammates in NBA history to record 30-point triple-doubles in the same regular or postseason game, according to ESPN Stats and Information research, what irritated Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was the fact that his team didn’t play with the same kind of edge that has defined their unlikely run as a No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“I just think sometimes, for us, when we lose a lot of those physical battles, the effort plays, the loose balls, the rebounding battles, that’s our identity,” Spoelstra said. “And sometimes that can affect the flow of the rest of your game. That’s not an excuse. I think the thing that we’ve proven over and over and over is we can win and find different ways to win regardless of whether we have confidence, regardless whether the ball is going in.
“We have a determination to impact the game and find a different solution or different way to win a game regardless of whether the ball is going in. It felt like at times, some of those missed shots at the rim or in the paint, the makeable shots that we’ve made the last several months or weeks, that affected a little bit of our, whatever, going down the other end. And that hasn’t happened a lot.”
The postgame news conference room inside Kaseya Center was quiet late Wednesday night as Heat players and Spoelstra tried to explain how Jokic, Murray and the rest of the Nuggets were able to control the glass, especially as Denver pulled away in the second half. Veteran guard Kyle Lowry felt that it was Murray who got going early, which helped Jokic get rolling later in the game.
“I think the game started off with Jamal Murray and it kind of made Jokic’s game a little — a little bit easier,” Lowry said. “We had the help on Jamal. Jokic is going to get his. He’s a two-time MVP. He knows how to play basketball. He’s really talented.
“Sometimes, he’s going to do what he’s going to do. 32-10-21, that’s pretty good numbers. He’s seven feet. He can do pretty much everything. But I think Jamal set the tone for their group, and he was aggressive, assertive. And, you know, he set the tone, and it made things a little bit easier for Jokic.”
In Butler’s mind, the fix for Friday’s Game 4 is simple — his team has to come out more aggressive as it tries not to fall into a 3-1 hole against a Nuggets team that played like it had a point to make all night.
“I feel like we just got to come out with more energy and effort, and that’s correctible,” Butler said. “That’s on us as a group. No X’s and O’s can fix that. So come out, dive on the floor, get loose balls, get defensive rebounds and maybe, just maybe, it would have been a different game.”