Unfazed Heat were ‘not worried’ in comeback win

Heat take over in fourth quarter to steal Game 2 in Denver (4:14)

The Heat storm back from a 15-point deficit and finish strong in the fourth quarter to win Game 2 and even the series against the Nuggets. (4:14)

  • Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff WriterJun 4, 2023, 10:53 PM ET

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      Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.

DENVER — Jimmy Butler believes there is a simple reason the Miami Heat remain so resilient throughout the most unlikely postseason run in recent memory.

After finishing off a 111-108 victory over the Denver Nuggets in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night, evening the series at 1-1, Butler offered an explanation as to why this particular group — the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference — continues to find a way to win games.

“I just think nobody cares on our team,” Butler said, after scoring 21 points and dishing out nine assists in 40 minutes. “We’re not worried about what anybody thinks. 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. So that’s what I think it is. I think it’s the ‘I don’t give a damn’ factor.”

Both Butler and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra have repeatedly praised their tough-minded group for being able to find ways to win no matter the circumstances. It’s a mantra the veteran coach hit on again after the Heat’s most important triumph to date.

“We faced a lot of adversity during the season,” Spoelstra said. “We handled it the right way where you are not making excuses about it, the injuries, the changing lineups. Because of all that adversity and the 57 close games that happened, due to a lot of that, it hardened us. 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. But this is a very tough opponent. They have our full respect, for sure.”

As usual, it was a variety of Spoelstra’s players who helped pick up the slack. Down by as many as 15 in the first half, the Heat climbed their way back into yet another game by leaning on Gabe Vincent, who scored a team-high 23 points and hit several key shots for a team that had to pick up Butler, who struggled to find his offensive rhythm until making some critical shots late.

Duncan Robinson scored all 10 of his points in the fourth quarter for Miami. Max Strus added 14 for the night after going 0-for-10 in Game 1. Bam Adebayo had another big outing with 21 points and nine rebounds. Kevin Love, who hadn’t played since Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, started and grabbed 10 rebounds in 22 minutes.

“It’s just part of our DNA, for one,” Vincent said. “You know, everyone on this team has battled through adversity in some manner and been knocked down and had to get back up. And for No. 2, we have a lot of experience in these close games. So when it comes down to the wire, we are strangely comfortable.”

Vincent continues to thrive on the game’s biggest stages and has become an integral part of the Heat’s success. The group trusts him to deliver when its need a lift.

“Undrafted players can start in the Finals,” Adebayo said while describing what Vincent continues to prove. “It doesn’t mean anything that he’s undrafted. He’s giving guys who are going through his path or down that road of, you’re not this, you’re not that, you’re not this, and he’s carving a space for himself. I feel like a lot of people are going to know who Gabe Vincent is.”

After going to the free throw line just twice in Game 1 and getting knocked around at times by Nuggets star Nikola Jokic & Co., the Heat made a point to be more aggressive, showing once again what has made them so mentally strong this postseason. Adebayo noted that part of the edge comes from the Heat hearing some of the doubts people have had about their run.

“Biggest thing for us, we heard the noise throughout the whole playoffs,” Adebayo said. “Biggest thing for us, we had the will and we had the belief, and we keep finding ways to win.”