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Miami Heat Face 3-1 Deficit in NBA Finals After Game 4 Loss to Nuggets


The Miami Heat would be the first to assess their path to this late stage of the season as imperfect. Pretty much everything has posed a challenge. The injuries. The losses. Even their experience in the play-in bracket — a loss followed by a come-from-behind win — seems apocryphal, or at least true to form, now that they are facing the Denver Nuggets in the N.B.A. finals.

In the process, the Heat have co-opted adversity as a part of their identity. Adversity has hardened them and made them more resilient. Adversity has fueled their postseason run. Adversity has improved them as players and helped them bond as a team. Adversity has them competing for a championship.

Bam Adebayo, the team’s All-Star center, cited the “ups, downs, goods, bads” of the season as if they were inseparable qualities, as if none could exist without the others. Coach Erik Spoelstra has taken to occasionally describing his team as “gnarly” in the most complimentary way possible.

“That’s a Spo term,” Adebayo said at a news conference earlier this week, adding: “A lot of you in here probably never thought we would be in this position right now.”

The problem, of course, is that a steady diet of adversity takes a toll, and the Nuggets are a full meal. So much talent. So much size. So much depth. And not even the Heat, who have made a habit of navigating their way out of bleak situations, could match them on Friday night as the Nuggets pulled away for a 108-95 victory in Game 4 that has them on the cusp of their first N.B.A. title.

The Nuggets have a 3-1 series lead. Game 5 is Monday in Denver.

“It’s going to be a gnarly game in Denver that is built for the competitors that we have in our locker room,” Spoelstra said, adding: “We get an opportunity to play a super competitive game in a great environment.”

Spoelstra was notably upbeat, but that was nothing new. Count the Heat out at your peril.

“Our whole season hasn’t been easy,” Adebayo said. “It just seems like we won’t quit.”

They refused to quit after slipping into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed in the East. They refused to quit after losing two rotation players, Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo, in their first-round series with the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks. Herro broke his hand, and Oladipo tore a tendon in his knee.

Afterward, the Heat seemed cognizant of their new reality — that nearly everyone would be counting them out. Spoelstra called it “the narrative” that he said he was certain would circulate over the weekend. Butler, indicated that he did not care.

“We don’t have no quit,” he said. “We are going to continually fight, starting tomorrow, to get better, and then we are going into Monday to do what we said we were going to do this entire time and win. We have to. We have no other choice. Otherwise, we did all this for no reason.”

He added: “We’ve done some hard things all year long, and now it’s like the hardest of the hard.”

The challenge before them is great, though not insurmountable. The Cleveland Cavaliers came back from a 3-1 deficit in the 2016 N.B.A. finals, shocking the Golden State Warriors, who had set a record by winning 73 games during the regular season. Still, Cleveland is the only team to recover from that deep a hole in the finals; 35 other teams have tried and failed.

Spoelstra said he told his players in the locker room “to feel whatever you want to feel” after the loss. He did not expect them to get much sleep, and that was probably a good thing. He wanted them to stew on what had happened, and then refocus on the hardest-of-the-hard task ahead.

“Our guys love this kind of deal,” Spoelstra said.

The Heat wanted adversity? They definitely have some now.

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