by Tim Reynolds
MIAMI — The easiest way to explain what the Miami Heat are doing in the comeback department during these playoffs is simply to put up their numbers against the rest of the league.
When facing a deficit of at least 12 points this postseason:
— The Heat are 7-6.
— The rest of the NBA is 6-59. Combined.
“Biggest thing for us, we had the will and we had the belief,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said. “And we keep finding ways to win.”
Doesn’t matter the opponent, either. Milwaukee, New York, Boston and now Denver in the NBA Finals all have found themselves on the wrong end of a Heat rally.
Miami rallied from 15 points down to beat top-seeded Milwaukee in Game 4 and then from 16 down to win the clinching Game 5;from 12 down to win Game 1 over New York and from 14 down in Game 6 to eliminate the Knicks; erased a 13-point deficit in Game 1 at Boston and then a 12-point deficit to win Game 2 over the Celtics — and now, a 15-point comeback to win Game 2 of the NBA Finals over Denver.
Sunday night’s rally matched the fifth-largest in a finals game in the last 25 years. The Heat trailed the Nuggets 50-35 with 5 minutes left in the second quarter and outscored Denver 76-58 the rest of the way to even the series. The series now shifts to Miami, with both teams practicing there Tuesday before Game 3 on Wednesday night.
This improbable story — a team that trailed in the final minutes of an elimination game of the play-in tournament somehow getting to the NBA Finals — now has an even wackier plot twist. The eighth-seeded Heat have home-court advantage in the title series over Denver, the No. 1 seed out of the Western Conference.
“We’ve won on the road before,” Nuggets veteran Jeff Green said after Game 2 in Denver. “I think we understand what’s at stake. They did what they were supposed to do. They came in here, got a split. Now they’re going home, and I think we have to go in there worried about Game 3. We can’t worry about Game 4. We have to worry about Game 3.”
What Miami is doing is simultaneously historic and completely on brand for the Heat. There have been four teams in the last 25 years to have seven postseason wins after trailing by double digits in a game; Golden State did it last year on the way to the NBA title.
The other three teams on that list? The 2011 Heat, the 2012 Heat and now the 2023 Heat — all coached by Erik Spoelstra.
“We faced a lot of adversity during the season,” Spoelstra said. “We handled it the right way. … It steeled us and we developed some grit, which is what we all want. We want to be able to have that privilege of having adversity and being able to overcome it. You gain strength from that.”
The effect of all that adversity — like 44 games decided by five points or fewer, the Heat going 28-16 so far in those — is this: They just never think they’re out of a game. Sure, there’s the axiom that in the NBA every team eventually makes a run, and that’s largely true, but the Heat didn’t even raise the surrender flag in Game 1 when trailing by 21 points in the fourth quarter. They got the lead down to nine with 2:34 left.
And in Game 2, the comeback wasn’t in vain.
Down eight going into the fourth, Duncan Robinson and Gabe Vincent — two undrafted guards who were forged from the Heat player development program — scored Miami’s first 15 points of the final quarter. They gave Miami the lead, and the Heat didn’t give it away.
“We just needed to come out with a sense of urgency in that fourth,” Robinson said afterward. “It was kind of like a now or never sort of thing. Started with the defense, obviously, and we were able to do some things from there.”
What made the Game 2 comeback even more improbable — even for a team that is making rallies seem like an everyday thing in the playoffs — is that the Nuggets were 45-3 this season in games where they led by at least 15 points. And in games at home where they led by more than 10 points, they were 38-0.
The Comeback Heat weren’t deterred. Heat forward Jimmy Butler says it’s the “I don’t give a damn factor” that kicks in at those moments.
“I just think nobody cares on our team. We’re not worried about what anybody thinks,” Butler said. “We’re so focused in on what we do well and who we are as a group that at the end of the day, that’s what we fall back on. Make or miss shots, we’re going to be who we are because we’re not worried about anybody else. That’s how it’s been all year long, and that’s not going to change.”