DENVER — Rare are the nights when postgame praise flows for a center outscored by 20 by the opposing center.
But that exactly was the case after Sunday’s 111-108 Miami Heat victory over the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena that tied the best-of-seven NBA Finals at 1-1 heading into Wednesday night’s Game 3 at Kaseya Center.
Bam Adebayo closed the victory with 21 points for the Heat. Nikola Jokic finished with 41 for the Nuggets.
And Heat coach Erik Spoelstra could not have been more impressed with his defensive-minded, facilitate-first big man.
“Bam,” Spoelstra said, “we just can’t say enough of how difficult his responsibilities are in this series. To take arguably the toughest cover in the league for all the myriad of reasons that I don’t need to get into, and then he has to shoulder a big offensive role for us, as well. So it’s not like he can just stand and rest on the offensive side. And yes, he has to play 40-plus minutes, as well.”
Sunday, it was a case of less being more for Adebayo, after he closed with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting, with nine rebounds. In Thursday’s 104-93 Game 1 loss, he finished with a team-high 26 points, but it was on 13-of-25 shooting.
But as teammates stressed, forget the statistics or box score.
“Bam’s been great. He’s been relentless,” guard Gabe Vincent stressed. “He’s got a tall task, obviously, matching up with Jokic, and we still rely on him and turn to him to do a number of things for us for both sides of the ball and he’s been stepping up.”
In Sunday’s decisive fourth quarter, it was the full menu, with seven points, three assists, two rebounds and a key blocked shot (that certainly appeared to be an uncalled goaltend).
“Bam is the heart and soul of what we are doing at both ends,” guard Duncan Robinson said. “Sets the tone for us defensively with his versatility, and just making it difficult, usually on a team’s best player, a lot of times, especially in this series.
“And then offensively, you know, he does a lot, gets people open, a lot of stuff that doesn’t show up in box scores: screens, assists, all that sort of stuff. And also when he’s aggressive, it’s usually when we’re at our best. He’s been huge.”
It is a workload that Adebayo said is embraced, never more so than at this stage of the season.
“I mean, this is the Finals. This is what we live for,” he said. “This is the opportunity that we have. This is the opportunity that we don’t want to let slip away.
“So biggest thing for me, man, I go out there, I play with a will, I play with passion and I try to leave it all on the court.”
By the numbers
In overcoming their 83-75 deficit entering Sunday’s fourth quarter, the Heat now have four victories in these playoffs when down eight or more entering the fourth, the most in a single NBA postseason, at 4-5 in such situations. The rest of the league is 1-41 in the situation this postseason . . .
Sunday also was the Heat’s seventh victory this postseason after trailing by at least 10 points, tying the 2022 Warriors for the most double-digit comebacks in a single postseason in the last 25 years . . .
The Heat’s 13 victories this postseason are the most by a No. 8 seed in a single postseason. The New York Knicks won 12 games as a No. 8 seed in the 1999 postseason . . .
With Adebayo scoring 21 Sunday, Gabe Vincent 23 and Jimmy Butler 21, it marked the first time that the Heat have had three 20-point scorers in an NBA Finals game since Game 5 in 2013 (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen) . . .
The Nuggets’ Jokić is the first player to record at least 25 points and 10 rebounds in each of his first two NBA Finals games since the San Antonio Spurs’ Tim Duncan in 1999 . . .
With his 68 points in the series’ first two games, Jokic tied Kevin Durant (2012) for the third-most points in a player’s first two NBA Finals games. The only players with more points in their first two NBA Finals games were Allen Iverson (71 in 2001) and Michael Jordan (69 in 1991).