The Denver Nuggets’ commanding 104-93 victory in Game 1 of the NBA Finals puts the Miami Heat in an unfamiliar situation. For the first time all playoffs, the Eastern Conference underdogs will have to come from behind to win a playoffs series. Their final step to the championship must come in more deliberate, grinding fashion than any of their previous upsets.

Though the Nuggets played solidly to kick off the Finals, the Heat’s loss was also self-inflicted to an extent, as the team shot poorly throughout the contest. Star forward Jimmy Butler, who has carried the team throughout the postseason, was uncharacteristically quiet with 13 points Thursday night. Meanwhile, Caleb Martin, another hero for the team in the Eastern Conference Final, scored just three points while fellow guard Max Strus didn’t make a single basket.

“When you look at it during the game, they all look like the right shots,” Butler told reporters after the game. “And I’m not saying that we, as a team, can’t make those, but gotta get more layups, gotta get more free throws. And whenever you miss and don’t get back, the game gets out of hand kinda quickly.”

Before the Finals began, the Heat began three straight series with striking Game 1 victories, two against overwhelmingly favored opponents. The team made the most of its head start in the ECF series against the Celtics, when the team jumped out to a 3-0 lead and withstood a furious Boston comeback to win in seven games. Going into the series, ESPN analytics gave Miami a 3% chance to reach the Finals.


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But as good as the overachieving Heat has played in the past month, the Denver Nuggets have somehow played even better. The first-seeded team in the Western Conference has not entertained any underdog bids. Led by MVP runner-up Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets put away the Timberwolves and Suns before sweeping the Lakers in the Western Conference Final. Jokic has scored 29.8 points per game with 13.1 rebounds and 10.5 assists in this span.

Though the Heat seem to have its work cut out for them in one final postseason test, the team also has obvious room for improvement after a night of exceptionally poor shooting. In the face of yet another juggernaut, coach Erik Spoelstra remains undeterred.

“They’re fine. They’re not going to get sick at sea,” Spoelstra said after the game. “If they’re shooters, you’re not always going to be able to make all the shots you want. You have to find different ways to impact the game. Our game is not built just on the three-point ball. We’ve proven that time and time again. We can win games, we can win series, regardless of how the three is going.”

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