Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. I scored as many points in Game 1 of the NBA Finals as Max Strus did.
In today’s SI:AM:
If you're reading this on SI.com, you can sign up to get this free newsletter in your inbox each weekday at SI.com/newsletters.
That’s not going to cut it for the Heat
Nikola Jokić proved again last night that he’s been the best player in the NBA this postseason.
The Heat had no answer for Jokić in the Nuggets’ 104–93 win in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. He had 27 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds—his ninth triple-double in 16 playoff games this year. Miami had no answer for him defensively. Try to guard him one-on-one, and he’d get an easy look at the basket. Send a double team, and he’d find the open man with a brilliant pass. Bam Adebayo had a hard enough time dealing with Jokić, but it was even worse when Adebayo was on the bench, and Erik Spoelstra had to turn to Cody Zeller. Just look at this play where Jokić bullied Zeller on a drive to the rim.
It would be bad enough if Jokić was the only guy the Heat had to worry about, but the real problem is that he got plenty of help. Jamal Murray had 26 points and 10 assists, making him and Jokić just the second pair of teammates to have at least 25 points and 10 assists each in an NBA Finals game, joining Magic Johnson and James Worthy in 1987. Aaron Gordon had 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting, setting the tone with a dozen in the first quarter. Michael Porter Jr. had 13 rebounds and blocked two shots. It was a team effort that showed the Nuggets are the better team.
The scary thing for the Heat is that it could have easily been worse. Denver had its second-worst three-point shooting night of the playoffs, hitting 29.6% of its shots from long range (only its 25.9% performance in Game 2 against the Suns was worse). Murray and Porter, the Nuggets’ two leading three-point shooters in the regular season, were a combined 4-for-18. The Heat can’t expect that to continue for the rest of the series.
Denver made up for the uncharacteristically lackluster perimeter shooting by converting good looks in the lane, scoring 46 points in the paint. The Nuggets made 61.5% of their two-point shots, their third best this postseason.
The combination of Denver’s stout defense and the Heat’s inexplicably terrible shooting squashed any hopes of a Miami comeback. Hounded by the length of the Nuggets’ perimeter defenders, the players who carried the Heat to victory against the Celtics missed shot after shot. Max Strus went 0-for-10, missing nine three-pointers. Duncan Robinson went 1-for-6. Caleb Martin went 1-for-7 and was benched for the entire fourth quarter.
If there’s a silver lining, though, it’s that the shots started to fall during the fourth quarter. After hitting 25.9% of their threes in the first three quarters, Miami went 6-for-12 in the fourth quarter. If the Heat, the best three-point shooting team in the league this postseason, shoot more like they did in the last 12 minutes than they did in the first 36, they’ll stand a better chance, but that’s a tall order against a team with a perimeter defense as good as Denver’s.
The other deciding factor was the Heat’s lack of free throw opportunities. They attempted just two shots from the line over the course of the entire game, an NBA postseason record. After the game, Jimmy Butler (who scored just 13 points, his lowest of this postseason) urged his teammates to be more aggressive. “We’ve got to attack the rim a lot more, myself included,” he told reporters.
As Chris Mannix writes, last night was only one game, but it’s fair to wonder whether the Heat have finally met their match.
The best of Sports Illustrated
- In today’s Daily Cover story, Brian Burnsed writes about the proliferation of ninja warrior gyms and their impact on children “who seemingly find contentment only in the open air between metal bars and plastic holds.”
- Commissioner Adam Silver says the NBA uncovered “additional information” during its investigation into Ja Morant and that a punishment will be announced after the Finals.
- Joe Mazzulla isn’t going anywhere. Brad Stevens confirmed that he’ll be retained as coach.
- Tyler Herro reportedly could be ready to return from his broken hand for Game 2.
- The SEC is sticking with its eight-game league football schedule for now, Ross Dellenger reports. In doing so, the conference opted for a “softer path,” Pat Forde writes.
- Emma Baccellieri asks: Can Oklahoma win three in a row at the Women’s College World Series?
- Golf could be getting a new star in freshly minted pro Rose Zhang, Michael Rosenberg writes.
- The USMNT’s newly released roster includes its most recent recruit, Andrew Gastelum writes.
- The Stanley Cup Final is finally here, and there are still tickets available for tomorrow’s Game 1 in Las Vegas, with the get-in price just over $300.
The top five...
… things I saw yesterday:
5. Nikola Jokić’s first-quarter assist to Jamal Murray.
4. Twins rookie Royce Lewis’s homer to dead center.
3. Stanford catcher Aly Kaneshiro’s strong throw to nail a runner attempting to steal.
2. Aaron Gordon’s aggressive back-down of Caleb Martin.
1. Kevin Kiermaier’s diving catch in center. That was ridiculously impressive, even by his lofty standards.
True or false: When Lou Gehrig supplanted Wally Pipp in the starting lineup on this day in 1925, clearing the way for Gehrig to begin his streak of 2,130 consecutive games played, it was because Pipp complained of a headache.
Yesterday’s SIQ: Which of the following acts did minor league manager Phillip Wellman not perform when he was famously ejected from a game June 1, 2007?
- Cover the plate with dirt
- Toss the rosin bag like a grenade
- Carry second and third base off the field with him
- Pantomime a home run swing and run around the bases
Answer: Pantomime a home run swing and run around the bases. He did all those other things, as well as pretend to eject the umpires and blow a kiss to the crowd, in what is probably the most famous ejection in baseball history. Wellman was managing the Double A Mississippi Braves at the time, and the parent club reacted to his outburst by suspending him for three games.
Wellman is a baseball lifer. He played four seasons in the minors from 1984 to ’87 and got his first crack at managing in ’92 with the Orioles’ Gulf Coast League affiliate. He managed Mississippi for three more seasons after the famous outburst and then spent three seasons as a hitting coach in the Cardinals’ system. In 2014, he managed the Arkansas Travelers, then the Double A affiliate for the Angels. When the parent club didn’t renew his contract, he thought his career might be over. He got a job at a trucking company in Chattanooga.
But Wellman is back in baseball now. The Padres hired him in 2016 to manage their Double A team. This year, he got a promotion. He’s the manager of the Triple A El Paso Chihuahuas, 39 years after his pro baseball career began.