What a game that was. Game 2 of the NBA Finals well and truly delivered after a blowout Nuggets win in the series opener, with a missed three from Jamal Murray on the buzzer delivering the Miami Heat a three-point win on the road and tying the series up at one-game apiece.
But while the game lived up to all expectations and then some, there were a couple of Denver players who notably did not. These are the two Nuggets players most to blame for their Game 2 loss to the Heat.
1. Michael Porter Jr.
Michael Porter Jr has become a really valuable piece for the Nuggets over the course of this season, and in particular the playoffs. His ability to play within himself, be willing to take shots within the flow of the offense and drastic improvement on defense have seen him become a consistent contributor on a championship-level team. Tonight, however, he simply didn’t have it.
He scored just five points on 2-8 shooting, his lowest points total in a game since the 18th of January. That aside, he had six rebounds, and no assists. What’s more, his presence enabled Erik Spoelstra to bring Kevin Love back into the starting lineup, freeing up Jimmy Butler to guard Jamal Murray – something which worked to great effect. Love is 34 and not athletic in the slightest, but that Porter Jr. wasn’t able to punish him in any way shape or form on offense allowed those favorable matchups for the Heat to continue.
At just 24 and in his first ever NBA Finals, it’s not unexpected that Porter Jr. wasn’t going to bring his absolute A-game each and every night, but this performance was a particularly disappointing one. In such a tight game, his inability to contribute will deservedly be looked back upon as a major reason for this defeat.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has proven that he can contribute in a significant way on the biggest stage. He played a vital role for the Los Angeles Lakers in their bubble championship, with his excellent perimeter defense, shooting ability and, at times in that series, his playmaking, making him perhaps the Lakers’ most important player outside of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. In his first season with the Nuggets, he has brought every bit of that to the table, and has played plenty of really good games in this postseason. This was not one of them.
Like Porter Jr., KCP didn’t bring his shooting shoes to this one, scoring just seven points on 3-8 shooting. Coach Malone would want more from him on offense than that, but while his shooting ability from both outside the arc and the mid-range is valuable, it’s invariably going to wax and wane a little over the course of the series.
What was particularly disappointing about Caldwell-Pope’s performance was his defense, with a couple of uncharacteristic brain fades at that end of the floor really costing the Nuggets. He picked up his sixth foul of the game with 48 seconds to go in the fourth quarter, ending his night early, with two of those fouls having come on Miami three-point attempts. The second of those, his fifth foul, came on a long Kyle Lowry three in the fourth quarter with the shot clock about to expire, sending Lowry to the line for three free throws. He hit all of them, taking the lead to 101-93 with just over five minutes to go.
That alone didn’t cost the Nuggets the game, but it came at a pivotal time and was his second such error in the game. With just three points the end margin, those freebies that he gave to the Heat will no doubt be front of mind when he looks back on his performance.
Porter Jr. and Caldwell-Pope certainly weren’t single-handedly responsible for the Nuggets Game 2 loss. Jamal Murray didn’t do a whole lot until late in the game, while Michael Malone will also be questioning his decision not to call a timeout on that final play. The two names above, however, were clearly the Nuggets who performed the furthest below their expectations, and played a big role in Denver failing to protect home court against a team which, on paper, can’t hold a candle to them.