NBA fans are as guilty of recency bias as any in the sports world. Team gets up by 20 points? They're unstoppable. Player X has a huge game? The opponent has no answers for him. Team wins Game 1 of a series handily? Get out the brooms.
If the Miami Heat have proven one thing in this incredible playoff run, it's that we all need to pump the brakes when it comes to premature prognostications.
There's no way to sugarcoat it -- the Heat's 104-93 loss to the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday was ugly. Outside of a couple short-lived fourth-quarter runs, Miami was outmatched, out-executed and outclassed. The easy conclusion is that the Nuggets are just a better team, and that the Heat simply can't match the overstuffed collection of offensive gunpowder that Denver ignites game after game after game.
That may certainly end up being the case, but there is also evidence from Game 1 that the Heat can absolutely win this series. Here are a few silver linings that Erik Spoelstra and his crew can take into Sunday's Game 2.
Open shots aplenty
"Make or miss league" and whatnot, but the Heat simply couldn't knock down anything from the perimeter on Thursday. They came into the game making 39 percent of their 3-pointers, best of any playoff team including Denver, but the clanks just kept on coming in Game 1 to the tune of 13 for 39 shooting from deep. During the postseason, Miami has made 41 percent of their 3s in wins, and 36 percent in losses, so they're usually not going to win if they don't make 3s. But the Heat should be encouraged by the open looks they were able to generate against the Nuggets defense.
Max Strus went 0 for 9 from long distance and you'd have to expect that the 37 percent career 3-point shooter will knock some of those down in the coming games. As you can see, most of his misses were on wide-open looks.
It's hard for Miami to win when Strus and Duncan Robinson combine to shoot 1 for 14 from 3-point range and conference finals hero Caleb Martin goes 1 for 7 from the field, but history suggests they'll bounce back.
"We've been through this before. Like, they are ignitable," Spoelstra said of Strus and Martin's Game 1 shooting struggles. "They have heard it from us. They will hear it from us. I love those looks that those guys get. I love it when they see a couple, two or three go down; that can turn into five or six."
Nonexistent free throws
The Heat's performance at the free throw line in Game 1 was reminiscent of Charlie Bucket's teacher asking him how many Wonka bars he had opened. When Charlie said "two," the teacher immediately assumed he meant 200, and was thoroughly disgusted when Charlie corrected him saying that he had, in fact, only opened two Wonka bars.
The same level of disbelief could be levied toward Miami, which set an NBA record for futility by attempting just two free throws in the entire game. The Heat weren't exactly parading to the foul line prior to Game 1, in either the regular season or the playoffs, but two is simply unacceptable -- Jimmy Butler entered the game averaging nine attempts by himself in the playoffs, and he didn't take one on Thursday.
This wasn't a ref thing, either. Give Denver credit for defending without fouling, but you can expect the Heat, and Butler, to force the issue with pump fakes and physical drives in Game 2 and beyond.
"We shot a lot of jumpshots, myself probably leading that pack, instead of putting pressure on the rim, getting lay-ups, getting to the free throw line," Butler said after the loss. "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."
Playoff Jimmy was in full effect early, scoring seven points on seven shots in the first quarter, but he finished with just 13 points on 6-for-14 shooting and was a team-worst minus-17 in 38 minutes. There's not much analysis to be gleaned here. Butler has been the best player on the floor in the majority of Heat playoff games, and that's why they're in the Finals. They need him to be more aggressive (getting to the free throw line would be a good start), and there's no reason to believe that he won't be much better in Game 2.
Most teams' game plan against Nikola Jokic is to attack him defensively, and that's exactly what Bam Adebayo did in Game 1. An excellent playmaker, Adebayo was clearly looking for his own shot more, finishing with 26 points, 13 rebounds and five assists on 13-for-25 shooting. The 25 shots were the most he's ever taken in a postseason game, and it was by design. As you can see, he operated mostly in the in-between space with Jokic in drop coverage, converting on mid-range jumpers and push floaters from the dotted line.
And when Adebayo is a scoring threat, that opens up lanes for his incredible passing ability.
Despite the loss, Adebayo in Game 1 was exactly what the Heat need him to be offensively, and it should bolster his confidence to become more of a scorer than he was against the Celtics in the conference finals, when he averaged just under 15 points on just 12 shots per game.
Taking care of the ball
The Heat only committed eight turnovers on Thursday, which helped limit the Nuggets to just nine fast-break points, compared to the 16 they've averaged so far in the playoffs. Denver is devastating in transition, with shooting and passing all over the court, so the best way to combat that is to limit live-ball turnovers, which Miami did in Game 1. The Heat only allowed 104 points on Thursday, and they have to feel confident that if they can continue to take care of the ball, it will help keep the Nuggets offense from exploding.