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How the Heat stop Nikola Jokic: Game 2 game plan, zone, limit assists

Nikola Jokic is having one of the most dominant playoff runs in NBA history. If the Miami Heat are going to win the Finals, the have to stop the Serbian.

Nikola Jokic is having one of the most dominant playoff runs in NBA history. If the Miami Heat are going to win the Finals, the have to stop the Serbian.

The NBA Finals are heading to South Beach with the series tied at 1-1 after the Miami Heat pulled even with the Denver Nuggets from Ball Arena on Sunday night. There has been one question that has haunted the NBA for the entirety of the postseason: How do you stop Nikola Jokic? And Miami might have unlocked that mystery.

Joker toyed with Heat in Game 1

There weren’t many people who thought the Heat had a chance to get back into the series after getting wiped out by the Nuggets in the NBA Finals opener. They were dominated physically, mentally and just about every other way you could get dominated on a basketball court.

In Denver’s Game 1 win Nikola Jokic looked unstoppable, and he did so by barley shooting the ball in the first two quarters. He had a 10 points and 10 assists at halftime, and only took three field goal attempts in the first half as the Nuggets’ lead stretched out to 15 points.

He ended the game with 27, 10 and 14 assists the Serbian led his team to a comfortable win to start the series. Five different Nuggets scored double digits as a result of his 14 assists including Jamal Murray who had 26 and Aaron Gordon who had 16.

Triple-doubles translate to Ws

When the two time MVP registers a triple double the Nuggets are damn near undefeated. He and the Nuggets set an all time record for a win streak when a particular player posts a triple double earlier this year when Denver won their 29th straight game when Jokic gets 10+ points, 10+ rebounds and 10+ assists.

Their streak was snapped on March 11th in a game against the San Antonio Spurs, when the big man posted 37, 11 and 11 but Denver lost 128-120. Shockingly in the next game, Jokic put up 35, 20 and 11 and the Nuggets lost again this time to the Brooklyn Nets. Since then, Joker has posted 11 triple-doubles, and the Nuggets have won 10 of those games, with their only loss coming in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semis against the Suns.

The Miami Heat changed up a few things in their Game 2 win on the road. First of all, they started Kevin Love who added a size and strength to their first five which helped neutralize some of the mismatches that the Nuggets exploited in the first half. The second thing they did, whether intentional or not, was allow Jokic to roam free in the middle of the paint but limited his ability to pass the ball and incorporate his teammates.

Limiting Jokic’s assists the key

Jokic ended the game with 41 points, but just four assists, which was his fewest since the penultimate game of the regular season, and just the fourth game he failed to reach five assists or more during this campaign. In all four of those games in which Jokic dished out fewer than five assists the Nuggets lost.

The proof is in the pudding, but keeping Jokic from racking up assists isn’t an easy thing to do. He has an ability to read the game quicker than anyone in the league. LeBron talked about it after getting swept by Joker and the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.

Eric Spoelsta implemented a zone look in the second game of the NBA Finals which gave Jokic plenty of space down low, and even matched him up against smaller guys like Jimmy Butler or Gabe Vincent. Jokic took advantage of those mismatches by posting 41 points, but limited his efficiency dishing the rock.

Denver winless when Jokic goes for 40+

In the three postseason games that Jokic has posted 40+ points, the Nuggets are 0-3. Spoelstra was asked about that, and the Heat strategy after the game, but he dismissed the notion while showering the Serbian with praise.

The NBA Playoffs is as much about switching games plans, and adjusting on the fly as it is about how the players perform on the hardwood. Mike Malone and Eric Spoelstra will know hit the film room and look to make the necessary tweaks to take Game 3 in Miami on Wednesday night.