Jimmy Butler and Nikola Jokic are the marquee players in the NBA Finals based primarily on their abilities on offense, but the Miami Heat leader also praised the defensive acumen of the Denver Nuggets superstar heading into Game 2 between the teams on Sunday night.
Jimmy Butler on Nikola Jokić:
“As much as everybody looks at what he does on the offensive end of the ball, he’s elite on the defensive end too.”
Cited Jokić moving his feet well at his size, forcing guys to change decisions in the paint, and rebounding/outlet passing.
— Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn) June 3, 2023
Jokic had a triple-double in his NBA Finals debut, with 27 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds (all defensive) in Game 1, a 104-93 Nuggets victory. He is averaging 29.8 points per game in the playoffs after scoring 24.5 points per game during the regular season.
But Butler also took note of the defense played by the 6-foot-11 center. The Nuggets held the forward to 13 points in Game 1, his lowest output of the playoffs, and Miami had a record-low two free-throw attempts.
Butler said he would be more aggressive on offense in Game 2, specifically mentioning a need to get to the rim more often. That should not only result in more scoring but also might get Jokic into some foul trouble.
The versatile big man can focus on things other than scoring because teammate Jamal Murray is helping carry the offense. The guard had 26 points in Game 1 and is averaging 27.6 points per game in the playoffs.
“I don’t need to shoot, and I know I don’t need to score to affect the game,” Jokic said after Game 1.
Miami center Bam Adebayo was excellent in Game 1 with 26 points and 13 rebounds. But it wasn’t nearly enough with the Heat falling behind by as many as 24 points. Caleb Martin was 1-for-7 from the field for three points, and Max Strus was 0-for-10, the most attempts without a made basket in a Finals game since Ray Allen went 0-for-13 for the Boston Celtics against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2010.
Butler remains confident the Heat can rally to win the series despite an uninspiring Game 1. They responded to win Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics to avoid becoming the first NBA team to lose a best-of-seven series after winning the first three games.
Martin did not practice Saturday because of an illness, but there reportedly is a chance Tyler Herro could return from a broken hand to play in Game 2. Whoever Miami puts on the court, the Heat should expect Jokic to continue his standout play on both ends.