DENVER - The Miami Heat handed the Denver Nuggets their first home defeat of the playoffs Sunday, surging in the fourth quarter for a 111-108 victory that leveled the NBA Finals at one game apiece.
Gabe Vincent scored 23 points and Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo scored 21 points apiece for Miami, who withstood a 41-point performance from Nuggets star Nikola Jokic to get the split in Denver and breathe new life into the championship campaign.
In a game of swinging shifts of momentum, the Heat had the last word, rallying from a 15-point first-half deficit and out-scoring the Nuggets 36-25 in the final period as they silenced the crowd of 19,537 at Ball Arena.
Adebayo sealed it with a pair of free-throws with 48.3 seconds remaining.
"We know we've got to do it on the defensive end," Adebayo said of Miami's fourth-quarter focus. "That's the biggest thing for us. We got to do it on that end because we know we can score, all five guys we believe in. So the biggest thing for us was getting stops."
Denver had a last chance to tie it, but Jamal Murray missed a three-pointer.
"It was a good look, just didn't go down," said Murray, who scored 18 points and handed out 10 assists.
Miami, who came through two play-in games and are trying to become the first eighth-seeded team to win the title, host game three of the best-of-seven series on Wednesday.
"We gutted out one on their home court, so time to go back to the 305," Adebayo said referencing the Miami area code.
Miami, who were dominated in a game one defeat, vowed to step it up and they started strong, leading by 11 with less than five minutes to play in the first quarter.
The Nuggets battled back and were up by 15 in the second quarter on the way to a 57-51 halftime lead.
But Nuggets coach Michael Malone excoriated his team's lack of effort.
"This is NBA Finals, we are talking about effort; that's a huge concern of mine," Malone said. "Tonight, the starting lineup to start the game, it was 10-2 Miami. Start of the third quarter, they scored 11 points in two minutes and 10 seconds.
"We had guys out there that were just, whether feeling sorry for themselves for not making shots or thinking they can just turn it on or off, this is not the preseason, this is not the regular season.
"This is the NBA Finals. That to me is really, really perplexing, disappointing."
Certainly Denver's second-quarter turnaround owed plenty to their bench, which out-scored Miami's reserves 25-5 in the first half.
But it was two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Jokic who asserted himself in the third, scoring 18 points in the period.
Jokic would finish with 11 rebounds but handed out just four assists and coughed up five turnovers as Miami's adjustments limited his effectiveness as a facilitator.
"We had a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding," Jokic said. "You just need to know where to be or what to do or what's the coverage or whatever."
- Moments of truth -
Miami tied it up at 66-66 midway through the third but didn't manage to get back in front and trailed by eight, 83-75 after Denver closed the third on a 6-0 run.
But the Heat opened the fourth on a 15-2 scoring run, taking the lead for the first time since the first quarter on Vincent's three-pointer with 10:10 to play and never trailing again.
After a disappointing shooting display in game one, the Heat connected on 17 of 35 from beyond the arc on Sunday.
Max Strus, who didn't score a basket in game one, led all scorers in the first half with 14 points.
They connected on 11 of their 16 attempts in the fourth quarter, including five of nine from three-point range.
"During the fourth quarter, our guys love to compete," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "They love to put themselves out there in those moments of truth.
"Fortunately we were able to make a lot of big defensive plays down the stretch, and then we got a lot of contributions, which you're going to need against a team like this."