Home is where the hurt is: Miami Heat facing NBA Finals elimination with Game 4 loss to Denver | Opinion

NBA Finals reality set in hard for the Miami Heat on Friday night.

The 108-95 Game 4 loss -- Miami’s fourth straight at home this postseason -- has the Heat now down 3-1 and forced to face two very real possibilities:

Miami may just have played its final home game of the season, meaning Udonis Haslem might well have played his last game in the 3-0-5 in an epic 20-year Heat career at its end.

And Miami also now faces its third straight loss in a Finals, following championship-series near-misses in 2014 to end the LeBron James era and again in 2020 in the pandemic Orlando bubble.

“All we’re thinking about is getting this thing back to the 3-0-5,” said coach Erik Spoelstra. “We do that [he snapped his fingers], that’s how quickly this can change.”

The Heat, deflated and facing enormous odds, would have to win Game 5 in Denver Monday night to earn one last home game. The prize for two wins in a row by Miami? A Game 7 in Denver.

Butler admitted the enormity of the task facing Miami,calling it “the hardest of the hard. That’s our reality. Gotta go out and win three straight.”

In the history of NBA 7-game playoff series since the current format began in 1984, teams down 3-1 are 9-179 overall on winning the series, or 4.8 percent. When teams are down 3-1 like this -- with Games 5-6-7 away-home-away -- it’s 3-127, or a 2.3 percent shot.

That’s what history thinks of the Heat’s chances now.

History says Miami, the first No. 8 seed to reach the Finals since 1999, will fall short of being the first-ever 8-seed to win a title.

Of course history (and the betting odds, and the experts) also thought Miami would fall short against Milwaukee, and then New York, and then Boston. The Heat won all three series.

But this is different.

Denver has two-time league MVP Nikola Jokic and a brilliant supporting cast, and the Nuggets have taken on the veneer of destiny that they are about to deliver the city ts first NBA championship in 56 franchise season.

Jokic scored 23 points Friday with 12 rebounds despite sitting out five minutes in the fourth quarter with five fouls, with Aaron Gordon stepping up with 27 and Bruce Brown (the former Miami Hurricane) with 21.

Miami got 25 from Butler and 20 from Bam Adebayo but had 14 turnovers and shot only 8-for-25 on three-point shots.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) controls the ball while driving on Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (13) during the first half of Game 4 of the NBA Finals at the Kaseya Center on Friday, June 9, 2023, in downtown Miami, Fla.

The Heat trailed 86-73 entering the fourth quarter -- in search of their eighth postseason victory after overcoming a double-digit deficit. Miami scored eight straight points to open the fourth, taking advantage of Jokic being on the bench with five fouls. But it was as close as the home team got.

The Heat had blasted itself for low energy and insufficient effort in the previous blowout Game 3 home loss.

“It just can’t happen. It won’t happen again,” promised Butler, who now needs a hoops-miracle to get his long-elusive first championship.

Spoelstra had said of Game 3: “We lost a lot of 50-50, ball-in-air, ball-on-floor battles. That made it too much to overcome, all of [Denver’s] extra effort points. The effort plays, the loose balls — that’s our identity.”

Energy and effort weren’t the problem Friday.

A bigger team with more offensive weapons was the problem for Miami.

A better team was the problem.

Denver Nuggets forward Bruce Brown (11) attempts a basket against the Miami Heat in the first half of Game 4 of the NBA Finals at the Kaseya Center in downtown Miami, Fla. on Friday, June 9, 2023.

Miami’s plan for a fast start did not happen as Denver led 55-51 at intermission. Heat got good halves from Butler (14) and Adebayo (12) and rebounded much better than in Game 3 -- but managed only 4 of 12 three-point attempts in the half. Those are not numbers Miami can win with against a bigger Nuggets team that makes scoring in the paint and getting to the free-throw line difficult for the Heat.

Butler’s night continued a gradual decline in the postseason from the Playoff Jimmy who blitzed Milwaukee for a 37.6-point average in the opening series. His scoring average was down to 24.6 vs. New York and Boston, and is at 21.7 in the first four games of the Finals.

This is not to scapegoat Butler. He’s been the biggest reason by a good measure that Miami got this far.

Neither is this to write off Miami as having no hope.

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) on the court in the first half during the game against the Denver Nuggets in Game 4 of the NBA Finals at the Kaseya Center in downtown Miami, Fla. on Friday, June 9, 2023.

But reality is reality and Friday was a crushing defeat made all the worse because it was a fourth in a row at home in the playoffs.

The NBA Finals go on.

But this loss and a 3-1 series hole leaves Miami much closer now to figuring out what went wrong than to planning a championship parade.

The team that has been defying odds and proving doubters wrong all postseason has nothing left to cling to but the belief they can do it again.

“No doubt. We don;t have any of that. No quit,” said Butler. “We have to win this. Otherwise we did all this for no reason.”