Why Jimmy Butler, Heat struggled in Game 1 loss to Nuggets and what it means for NBA Finals series

Why Jimmy Butler, Heat struggled in Game 1 loss to Nuggets and what it means for NBA Finals series

Game 1 of the 2023 NBA Finals was mostly one to forget for Jimmy Butler and the Heat.

After stealing the first game in each of the previous rounds, the Heat didn’t have enough to keep up with the Nuggets in Game 1 of the Finals. Miami trailed by as many as 24 points before suffering a 104-93 loss.

Butler, who entered the Finals averaging 28.5 points per game, turned in his lowest-scoring performance of these playoffs with 13 points while shooting 6-of-14 from the field. Miami found its rhythm late in Game 1, but as a whole, did not look like it was there offensively.

As the series continues, what does this mean for Butler and the Heat? Here is where the team can go as they prepare for Game 2 and the rest of the series.

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More aggression from Jimmy Butler

Butler’s had an uncharacteristic night, to say the least.

In addition to his low-scoring output, Butler failed to get to the charity stripe as Miami shot just two free throws as a team for the game. More on that later.

Miami’s leading scorer looked a bit passive at times, opting to facilitate for the likes of Bam Adebayo, Caleb Martin, Max Strus, and Gabe Vincent. And while Adebayo turned in a dominant performance, it was evident that Martin and Strus did not have it.

“I’m always going to pass the ball to my teammates,” Butler said postgame. “… That’s how we have been playing all year long. That’s not going to change now that we are in the Finals.”

And while Butler may have appeared passive, his facilitating resulted in a team-high seven assists.

As the series goes on, Butler admitted that he’ll need to be more aggressive: “I’ve got to put pressure on the rim. Me with no free throws, that was all on myself, nobody else.”

“So we’ll definitely correct that the next game, but only I can do that.”

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An improvement from 3-point shooters

Coming into the Finals, the Heat ranked first among all playoff teams by shooting 39.0 percent from beyond the arc. In Game 1 of the Finals, Miami fell shy of its average, shooting 13-of-39 (33.3 percent) against Denver.

33.3 percent may not seem too far off from the average, but there’s more to that number.

The Heat’s stats are skewed by a fourth quarter in which they shot 6-of-12 from deep as their late-game attempts to rally proved to be futile. Here’s how Miami’s 3-point shooting broke down in Game 1:

Quarter 3P-3PA PCT
1-3 7-27 25.9%
4 6-12 50.0%

For the game, Strus missed all nine of his 3-point attempts while Duncan Robinson shot 1-of-5. As Miami awaits the return of Tyler Herro, it will be especially reliant on its 3-point shooters to keep the offense flowing.

MORE: Heat set dubious free throw records in Game 1 loss to Nuggets

Assertiveness to get to the free throw line

While more scoring from Butler is paramount to success and the team’s offense relies on 3-point shooting, the fact that the Heat attempted just two free throws is unacceptable. It’s the biggest sign of what needs to change for Miami as the series goes on.

“Probably because we shot a lot of jump shots,” Butler said when asked about his team’s offensive struggles. “… Instead of putting pressure on the rim, getting lay-ups, getting to the free throw line.

“When you look at it during the game, they all look like the right shots.”

Erik Spoelstra is one of the greatest tacticians to ever grace an NBA sideline, but the biggest thing the tape will show is a desperate need for rim pressure and aggression.

Butler is the obvious answer for the rim pressure problem, but the solution also lies in the hands of Adebayo, who showed a much-needed increase in assertiveness in Game 1.

We’ll see how Butler and the Heat respond in Game 2.