Heat need aggressive Jimmy Butler to set the tone for their shooters in Game 2

DENVER — The sound was low, then clear as it blasted through the speakers during Miami Heat practice on Saturday afternoon — the soulful melodies of The Isley Brothers and then The Temptations.

The respective lead singers, Ronald Isley and the late David Ruffin, had distinct vocals in the old-school songs, a departure from the usual music that is played at games in all sports today.

Maybe it was a message to Jimmy Butler, a throwback to today’s game but definitely the lead singer of the Miami Heat. Butler had an indescribable NBA Finals opener after a promising opening minute or two, unable to produce the same magic he conjured up in road games the past three series.

His 13 points were fourth on the Heat behind Bam Adebayo, Gabe Vincent and Haywood Highsmith, who provided a late spark to make the final score respectable. With Caleb Martin and Max Strus struggling, they needed more aggression from Butler, but he seemed to give in to Denver’s length on the inside, rarely challenging the inside.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone, nearly minutes after claiming victory for his team in Game 1 on Thursday, spoke candidly about expecting a more forceful response from Miami in Game 2.

He echoed the sentiments during training on Saturday.

“For me, it’s not going to be about adjustments,” Malone said. “I expect the Miami Heat to come out with much greater energy and strength and an attacking mindset tomorrow night.”

The only player who seems to fit that description given Miami’s roster is Butler. He admits to setting the tone and bringing in the rest of his teammates, and given that the Heat only took two free throws in Game 1, they never seemed to bother putting on the Denver defense. uncomfortable.

It’s a delicate balance for the two, as Erik Spoelstra has embraced what this Heat roster is, a group of 3-point shooters who can get hot at any time. And Butler is the main enabler because he makes smart decisions, rarely turns the ball over and will let good shots go by in an effort to find good shots for shooters.

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler dribbles the ball against Denver Nuggets goalie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in Game 1 of the 2023 NBA Finals at the Ball Arena in Denver on June 1, 2023. (Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports)
Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler dribbles the ball against Denver Nuggets goalie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in Game 1 of the 2023 NBA Finals at the Ball Arena in Denver on June 1, 2023. (Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports)

Because, otherwise, how will they get a good appearance?

“I will continue [to] play the right way. I’m going to pass the ball to my shooters like I’ve played all playoffs, all year,” Butler said. “But yeah, I think I have to be more aggressive putting pressure on the rim. I think it makes everybody’s job a lot easier.

“They definitely follow suit whenever I am aggressive on both sides of the ball. So I have to be the one who comes out and kicks it off the right way, which I will do, and we’ll see where we end up.

Butler refuses to take bad shots, which means he’ll have to be more aggressive to chase down the good ones. Adebayo remained the only effective attacking player for most of the evening and given that he has his hands full with Nikola Jokić, it would be unwise to make him take 25 shots.

“Obviously we want to involve JB and Bam as much as possible. They are our two best players,” Spoelstra said. “We have to do it in different ways, so it’s not just a regular diet of anything. And there were certain aspects of what we did the other night [that] were very good, and there are other areas offensively where we absolutely need to improve and be more intentional.

The last time Butler played in the NBA Finals, it was as aggressive as he had been in his career on offense. In the Heat’s two wins over the Lakers in the 2020 bubble, Butler had historic games — a 35-point triple-double and a 40-point triple-double.

He put the team on the back foot in previous rounds, especially against Milwaukee in that rare 1-8 seeded upset. When in this mode, the Heat feels unbeatable.

He may have to summon the same spirit to keep Miami afloat here, if he’s physically able. Butler sprained his ankle in the semifinals against New York and appeared to make it worse against Boston in Game 7 of the Conference Finals. He, of course, will have nothing to say.

Butler will insist that everyone gets stoned this time of year, which is true. But the Heat need him to be ultra aggressive to keep up with the explosive Nuggets.

As much as the Nuggets determined the terms of Game 1, they missed a lot of open shots. Putting up just 104 points doesn’t seem to be duplicated in Game 2, which means Butler and the shooters have to be better.

“I think I was just passing the ball to the open guy, which I will continue to do,” Butler said. “Maybe I need to get more layups, more dunks, more rim attempts to free our shooters a lot more often.”

Duncan Robinson and Strus combined to shoot 1 of 14, and with Tyler Herro still out for Game 2 recovering from a broken right hand, the Heat will continue to let him fly.

“As far as the shooters are concerned, it’s quite simple. Let it fly. Switch on,” Spoelstra said. “Once they see two go down, it can be three, it can turn into six like that (snaps his fingers). As long as we get those clean looks, that’s what matters. And obviously we want to have a little more balance with our attacks and our painting opportunities, against a team that is doing a good job of winning.

Butler isn’t one to ignore his teammates even if they’re struggling – he’s quicker to deal with a shooter who’s collapsing from a shot than if he takes a bad shot.

Besides, it’s too early to panic.

“Yeah, I have to tell them: I’m still going to throw the ball to you, and if you miss the next 10, if you’re open on that 11th, I’m still going to throw the ball to you, because you’ll never be the reason. which we lose,” Butler said. “It’s always a group effort. I want you to take the same shots because they will be there. We’ll throw the ball to you. Stay aggressive because you’ve been the reason we’ve won so many games before. You’re going to be the reason we win games now, and that’s never going to change.

Butler being a singer capable of releasing a hit will not change either. He just has to grab the microphone.

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