The Miami Heat may have entered the 2023 NBA Finals riding the high of thrashing the Boston Celtics on the road in Game 7, but they quickly discovered that this iteration of the Denver Nuggets is a different beast. For much of Game 1, the Nuggets stamped their class over the Heat, quickly running out into a double-digit lead in the first half en route to a comfortable 104-93 victory.
The Heat, in particular, grew cold from the field, although that's just simple thermodynamics: the winds simply grow colder the farther one is from sea level. And the Heat, indeed, played like they were 5,280 feet away from sea. They shot an ice-cold 37.5 percent from the field (23.5 from deep) in the first half, setting the tone for what was an offensive struggle all game long.
When an offense is struggling, getting easy buckets, whether at the hoop or at the charity stripe, is a must. But the Heat failed at that too, despite boasting the services of Jimmy Butler, he of the astronomical free-throw rate. In Game 1, the Heat attempted just two free throws, which is the fewest any team has taken in NBA Finals history, per ESPN Stats & Info.
And no, it wasn't even Butler who took those free throws. It was Haywood Highsmith, yet another unsung Heat role player, who did.
Of course, credit must go to the Nuggets for their ability to defend without fouling. Given how referees officiate the game these days, it's quite the marvel to see Nikola Jokic and company prevent the Heat from putting up easy points on the board to this degree.
Even then, the Heat must shoulder a lot of the blame for their historical ineptitude when it comes to getting to the foul line. They settled for too many jumpshots — which Jimmy Butler himself admitted during his postgame presser — and as the Golden State Warriors learned weeks ago, it's hard to win the free-throw battle when all the offense conjures up are shots from distance.
Given how Game 1 turned out, expect Butler and the Heat to put up a much more concerted effort to get to the rim.