The Denver Nuggets’ first seeding game in the NBA’s Orlando bubble didn’t slip away but rather sprinted away.
The Nuggets led the Miami Heat by one at halftime and stretched the lead to six a couple of minutes into the second half but went on to lose 125-105. A couple of familiar mistakes fueled the Heat’s decisive 38-point third quarter.
“A combination of turnovers leading to transition (points) then not defending the 3-point line were by far the biggest issues tonight,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
Miami made 13 of its 29 3-pointers, including 8 of 14 in the second half, while the Nuggets turned the ball over 19 times and committed 32 fouls that helped Miami go 32 of 37 from the free-throw line.
The Heat took the lead for good on a pair of Bam Adebayo free throws with 7:34 left in the third quarter and stretched the lead to 15 by the start the fourth quarter. Miami reserve Kelly Olynyk scored all 20 of his points in the fourth quarter, including four 3-pointers, to stymie any possible Denver comeback.
“I think we did a good job in the first half of limiting them to 3s, and then obviously during the fourth quarter they got going a little bit to stretch the lead out, and that was pretty much the ballgame,” Torrey Craig said.
“We’re better than what we played today, (especially) in the third and fourth quarter.”
In a matchup of two of the league’s most versatile centers, Adebayo and the Heat got the best of Nikola Jokic’s short-handed Nuggets. Adebayo finished with 22 points, a game-high shared with teammate Jimmy Butler, and added nine rebounds and six assists. Jokic put up 19 points, a team-high shared with Jerami Grant, and grabbed seven rebounds with six assists.
“They were aggressive,” Jokic said. “They were pressing our stuff, our plays. We were catching the ball a lot farther from where you’re supposed to catch it. We didn’t finish; we didn’t shoot well.”
Denver played without regular starters Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Will Barton. Instead the starting five consisted of Monte Morris, Craig, Michael Porter Jr., Paul Millsap and Jokic. Morris (13), Porter Jr. (11) and Craig (10) also reached double figures, though Malone thought Porter Jr. had a bit more to offer after only grabbing one rebound in 24 minutes.
“I know Michael Porter can bring a lot more than he brought tonight,” Malone said.
Bol Bol, a 2019 second-round draft pick, made his NBA debut and had five points and four rebounds in 11 minutes for the Nuggets.
Denver will play the second of eight seeding games 2 p.m. Monday against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“I told our guys there’s no need to panic,” Malone said. “We’re without three starters, but Aug. 17, each day is creeping closer and closer and closer and we are still having issues valuing the ball and 3-point defense.”