The Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets have split the first two games of the 2023 NBA Finals. After Denver soundly won Game 1, the Heat fought tooth and nail to win Game 2, coming back from a 15-point deficit and surviving a 41-point performance from Nikola Jokic.
Many surmised that the Heat's adjustment to turn Jokic into more of a scorer than a passer propelled their win, but Erik Spoelstra dismissed that idea. Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr noted an adjustment that the Heat made after the first game that led to their win.
In an appearance on Draymond Green's podcast, Kerr pointed to the Heat's decision to have Jimmy Butler guard Jamal Murray, which was partly made possible by the Heat starting Kevin Love over Caleb Martin.
"I can see them in their coach's meetings saying, '[Jamal] Murray is the head of the snake, not [Nikola] Jokic.'"
Warriors coach Steve Kerr & Draymond Green on the key adjustment the Heat made to beat the Nuggets in Game 2 🗣
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) June 5, 2023
“You mentioned them starting [Kevin] Love. That allowed Jimmy Butler to guard Murray,” Kerr said. “I haven't talked to Spo or anything like that but I can see them in their coach's meetings saying, ‘Murray is the head of the snake, not Jokic.’ If you just look at it, you go, ‘Jokic is the head of the snake.’ But when you play a team you sort of realize, ‘Wait a second, that guy — he's gonna dominate no matter what we do — so this is the head of the snake.’
“I think they just decided Murray is the guy we gotta stop,” Kerr continued, “so you start Love, put Jimmy Butler on Murray, and then you saw they were blitzing Murray quite a bit and really trying everything to take him out of the game.”
In Game 1, the Heat had Gabe Vincent guard Murray while Butler spent time on Aaron Gordon. Miami's switch-laden defense gave Denver an easy out by getting Gordon onto a guard in the post, allowing him to power his way to the hoop for easy buckets.
In Game 2, Love neutralized the strength and size advantages Gordon had against the Heat's small lineup. Butler was able to slow Murray down (holding him to 18 points after 26 in Game 1) and Vincent, without the stress of the Murray matchup weighing him down, led the Heat with 23 points on 8-12 shooting. Game 3 should bring a new batch of adjustments from both sides as the series heads to Miami.