The best player in soccer said yes to Miami on Wednesday.
The best player in basketball was not nearly as kind.
Inter Miami won the day, spectacularly, with Lionel Messi.
The Heat was not as lucky with the night in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, because Nikola Jokic would not allow it, Miami losing, 109-94.
The good news? Messi is coming to play for Miami in MLS. You didn’t daydream that. It’s really happening.
The bad news? The Heat now trails 2-1 in the best-of-7 Finals entering Game 4 back in the bayside arena Friday night. The Heat has now lost its last three straight at home in the postseason.
Coach Erik Spoelstra was not pleased with his team’s effort, something he sees as a hallmark.
“We lost a lot of 50-50, ball-in-air, ball-on-floor battles,” he said. “That made it too much to overcome, all of [Denver’s] extra effort points. The effort plays, the loose balls — that’s our identity.”
Denver made a game plan of exerting its size advantage, and did, dominating in the paint with 60 points there on 30-for-48 shooting. Miami conversely shot only 17-for-46 in the paint, with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo a combined 10 for 30 in close.
For Miami the pivotal loss sees Heat championship odds dive sharply, if NBA history is any guide. Under the current playoff format, since 1984, teams down 2-1 in a best-of-7 are 70-236 to win the series, or 22.9 percent. And teams down 2-1 like this — split two away but then lose at home — are only 6-33, or 15.4 percent
Long odds haven’t meant much thus far to the Heat, of course. Not as a No. 8 seed that first stunned Milwaukee, then dispatched New York, then took care of rival Boston.
But none of those teams had Jokic. The Flat-Footed Assassin had a triple-double Wednesday with 32 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists — giving him an even 100 points in the the three games.
Miami had made a habit of coming from behind, seven times this postseason rallying from at east 10 points down to win, including in Game 2. But not this time.
The blockbuster Messi announcement earlier Wednesday at least assured the city of Miami a half-happy outcome on an historic day for sports in the city.
This is the seventh time in 35 franchise seasons Miami has been in the NBA Finals, in search of the club’s fourth championship following titles in 2006, 2012 and ‘13. Wednesday night marked the 16th Finals home game in Heat history, with a 10-5 home record going in. Miami last reached the Finals in 2020 but that was the pandemic Finals played in the bubble in Orlando in October. The last Finals game played in Miami before Wednesday was nine years ago, on June 12, 2014.
Stephen A. Smith had said on the Heat, before the game on ABC: “They got role players and one star in Jimmy [Butler]. They don’t have two stars like Denver.”
He was right about the Nuggets as Jamaal Murray augmented Jokic’s huge night 33 points of his own.
The Heat found a bunch of ways to lose, shooting only 37 percent from the field, making only 11 of 35 from three-point range, and being outrebounded by 58-33 — the biggest rebounding disparity in a Finals game since 1972.
“It just cant happen. It won’t happen again,” Butler said. “We gotta come up with more effort and energy. No X’s and O’s will fix that.”
Miami’s off night was not helped with Tyler Herro, close to returning form a broken hand, again ruled out.
With the Heat having hosted its first Finals game in Miami in nine years, the Florida Panthers on Thursday night will host their first Stanley Cup Final game in 27 years.
Elsewhere in town the Miami Marlins have a player who could be baseball’s first .400 hitter since the 1940s.
The Dolphins are as good and exciting and promising as they have been in many years.
And all curtsy and bow now, overshadowed by Messi coming to Miami.
“I want to get out of the spotlight for a bit,” Messi explained his decision.
(Good luck with that, Leo.)
Messi on top of the Heat hosting a Finals game made Wednesday the most incredible day in the most historic week in South Florida sports history.
Alas, the day ended not with a party, but with a quiet crowd emptying into the night.