Late Heat rally falls short in Denver, as five-game win streak ends. Takeaways and details

Five takeaways from the Heat’s 103-97 loss in Denver in a rematch of last season’s NBA Finals:

The Heat overcame a brutal start and staged a furious late rally but ultimately succumbed, ending their winning streak at five.

Miami hung around, closing to within 97-93 with 1:13 left, after back to back jumpers by Terry Rozier. Denver’s Nikola Jokic hit a hook shot to make it a six-point game and Bam Adebayo then cut it back to four with a jumper.

But after an offensive foul by Jokic, Rozier barely grazed the net on a three with 33 seconds left. After a miss by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jimmy Butler’s four-foot jumper pulled Miami to within 99-97 with 10 seconds left.

But the Nuggets’ Jokic hit two free throws to make it a 101-97 game with 6.1 seconds to go. After a timeout, Rozier then lost the ball on a sharp defensive play from Caldwell-Pope, and that essentially settled matters.

Give the Heat credit for resilience. This had blowout potential early, with Denver storming ahead 31-16 and leading 36-20 after a quarter, thanks to a big disparity on threes (6 for 9 for Denver, 1 for 6 for Miami). When Jamal Murray banked in a 26-footer to end the first quarter, the Heat looked headed toward a shellacking.

But Miami then showed the mettle that it has consistently displayed in winning nine of its previous 11.

The Heat whittled away at Denver’s lead and closed to within 56-51 at the half. The opportunity was certainly there, with Nuggets superstar Jokic enduring a rare off night (he opened 2 for 9) and Murray missing the second half with an ankle injury.

But after closing to within three points on three occasions in the third quarter, the Heat unraveled for a time, undone by poor shooting and an outburst by Michael Porter Jr., who scored 12 of his 30 in the third.

This was quite a change for Porter, who went 4 for 10 on threes on Thursday after shooting 4 for 28 on threes against the Heat in the Finals.

This was also quite a change for the Heat, which had dominant 36-19 and 34-20 third-quarter edges earlier this week in Sacramento and Portland. On Thursday, Miami was outscored 27-19 in the third and went to the fourth down 83-70 before staging an admirable late rally.

“We always give ourselves a chance, just being resilient, fighting back, not giving up even though some people would have cracked,” Adebayo said. “Having that type of adversity is good for us, especially in these types of environments.”

The Heat struggled offensively for stretches, just as it did during the NBA Finals.

Miami - which averaged just 96.4 points during last year’s Finals - mustered just 19 points in the third quarter on Thursday on 6 for 20 shooting, then couldn’t generate quite enough offense in the fourth.

After shooting just 40.7 percent and 34.3 percent on threes in last year’s Finals, Miami finished at 42.2 percent from the field on Thursday and 26.9 percent on threes (7 for 26). Throw in 15 turnovers, and the Heat’s offense was a mess at times, particularly in the first and third quarters.

Per CleantheGlass, Miami scored just 82.6 points per 100 halfcourt possessions on Thursday, which would rank in the bottom 12 percent of the league.

“Offensively, we have to convert a lot of those opportunities to beat a team like this on the road,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We had opportunities at the rim. There were some makable ones that didn’t go down.”

It was a tough shooting night for Bam Adebayo, who rallied late to finish with 22 on 8 for 18 shooting.

“We just missed a lot of shots we usually make,” Adebayo said. “We’re all human.”

After a good night in Portland, Terry Rozier had 19 on 6 for 15 shooting. He made just 1 of 8 threes but helped fuel the late rally, too.

“He was a big part of us being in this game,” Butler said.

On a night that Adebayo and Rozier were off - and Tyler Herro was sidelined - Miami needed a bit more from Jimmy Butler, who had 21 points on 7 for 17 shooting, and 7 rebounds.

Jaime Jaquez Jr. was brutal in the first half, shooting 0 for 4 and committing three turnovers. He finished with three points on 1 for 5 shooting.

Only Duncan Robinson and Caleb Martin shot 50 percent or better from the field. Robinson (5 for 9) had 12 points and Martin (5 for 10) chipped in 13 points.

The Heat saw its six-game road winning streak end and also lost for the first time since the All Star break. Miami finished 3-1 on this Western swing.

Also, Miami lost an opportunity to win every road game in a single month - something it had done only twice before (in December 1996 and December 2010). The Heat went 6-1 on the road in February.

Miami (33-26) slipped to eighth in the Eastern Conference but is just 1.5 games behind the No. 4 Knicks.

The Nuggets won despite an uncharacteristically quiet offensive night from Jokic, who scored 18 on 6 for 15 shooting.

The Nuggets built their 16-point first quarter lead despite only two points in 10 minutes from last year’s Finals MVP and perennial MVP candidate.

He played eight second quarter minutes with two fouls, never picking up his third before intermission.

In fact, the Heat’s Nikola Jovic outscored Jokic, 7-6, in the first half.

By late in the third quarter, Denver’s star center was only 3 for 11 and stuck on eight points. But he drove for a basket to put Denver up 83-70 just before the third quarter buzzer.

After Miami closed to within nine points in the fourth, Jokic hit a flailing bank shot. And then he hit a big basket in the final two minutes and the two free throws with 6.1 seconds left.

He made his usual impact on the boards (11 rebounds) and as a passer (seven assists).

Jokic’s brilliance was the biggest difference in last year’s Finals; he averaged 30.2 points, 14.0 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 1.2 blocks in Denver’s five-game series win.

This season, he’s 13th in the NBA in scoring at 25.9 points per game, third in rebounds at 12.3 and fourth in assists at 9.3.

Even with Jokic’s relatively quiet night and Murray’s injury, Denver had enough offensively, thanks to Jokic’s four key points late, Porter’s 30, 16 from Aaron Gordon and 18 from Caldwell-Pope.

“They’re a challenging team to guard with Jokic’s passing and cutting,” Spoelstra said. “We were able to manage a lot of that reasonably well.”

With Herro (hyperextended knee) and Kevin Love (heel) sidelined, the Heat had 11 players available. Orlando Robinson played in the absence of Love and suspended Thomas Bryant.

Making his 25th appearance this season, Robinson had three rebounds in 12 scoreless minutes and didn’t attempt a shot from the field.

He entered averaging 13.4 points and 9.9 rebounds per 36 minutes.

“The biggest thing is he’s proven that he can impact winning in Sioux Falls,” Spoelstra said of Robinson’s work this season for the Heat’s G-League team. “And then in his stints with us, he’s really improved, impacting winning with his unit. And that’s all I’m looking at.”

Robinson - who averaged 29.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists on 57 percent shooting in Las Vegas Summer League last year - said Thursday that defense has been his focus this season. His overall impact was negligible on Thursday.

As for Love, his right heel was severely bruised when he took a charge from 7-foot, 250-pound DeAndre Ayton in Tuesday’s win in Portland. Love’s 10 charges are tied for 13th in the league, and Spoelstra doesn’t want him to change his mentality.

“There is no Option B. That’s why Kevin is Kevin,” Spoelstra said. “And he’s a great team defender and he’s willing to put his body in harm’s way for the team. And, again, if you want to do some tough things defensively, you have to be tough, you have to make tough, physical plays, all within the confines of the rules. But you can’t play passive. You can’t be soft and expect to have a good defense.

“Kevin is extremely tough and we love that about him. When he gets a charge, it’s like two or three momentum changes plays, it feels like, on one possession, because the whole team rallies around that play, galvanizes our group.”

Herro missed his third consecutive game with the knee injury sustained late in Friday’s game in New Orleans; an MRI earlier this week showed no structural damage.

Besides Love, Herro and Bryant, the Heat also played without Josh Richardson (dislocated shoulder), Dru Smith (knee surgery) and two-way contract players Jamal Cain and Cole Swider, who are on G-League assignment.

Erik Spoelstra stuck with the same starters for the second game in a row - Butler, Adebayo, Jovic, Rozier and Robinson.

“They’ve had 31 different starting lineups. That’s crazy,” Denver coach Mike Malone said, adding that Spoelstra “deserves every dollar they just gave him.” Spoelstra recently signed an eight year extension that could pay him as much as $120 million.

Bryant received his NBA Finals ring, then shuffled off quietly into the Denver night before tipoff.

Under NBA rules, Bryant typically would not have been allowed inside Ball Arena on Thursday night, because he was serving the third game of a three-game league suspension for his role in last Friday’s on-court melee in New Orleans.

But the NBA permitted Bryant to come to the arena briefly in order to receive his 2023 championship ring from the Nuggets in a pre-game ceremony. Denver players embraced him at halfcourt, and Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope then gave Bryant his ring.

Bryant, who received applause from the Denver crowd, was then required to leave the arena.

“I’m glad the NBA is letting him have this moment,” Malone said before the game. “Smarter heads prevailed. It will be great to see him.”

Bryant played only 29 seconds for the Nuggets during their entire postseason run to a championship last season, with that one appearance coming in Game 3 of the NBA Finals against the Heat.

“Winning a title and being part of a championship team is the ultimate dream and it’s the ultimate goal for all of us, and he was a part of that last year, and we also wanted to acknowledge him,” Spoelstra said. “I’m glad he’s able to do it.”

With Love unavailable, Bryant likely would have played had he not been suspended.