UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – Against Miami, Nuggets playing ‘whack a mole’

If one searches “whack a mole” using Google, the first responses are literal explanations of the arcade game.

But then comes application of the concept to everyday living (including sporting pursuits). 

In short, the term signifies usually unsuccessful attempts to stop unwanted action from recurring in an unpredictable way.

This describes what the Nuggets are facing in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat.

Whack a mole.

After Game One was won handily by Denver, in Denver, there was widespread talk that this would be a short series, that the eighth and final qualifier from the Eastern Division was fortunate to have made it so far.

Miami was a team that got hot at just the right time, it was said, and upset better teams, ending with the vaunted Boston Celtics—in Boston, no less, in Game Seven!

But Game Two against Denver Sunday night illustrated how Miami made it through the play-in gauntlet all the way to the NBA Finals, and suggested the real challenge this series presents.

Whack a mole.

In Miami’s 111-108 unexpected victory, the Heat used 10 players. Three of them made major contributions after being non-factors three days earlier:

Veteran Kevin Love started and scored six points with 10 rebounds, in 22 minutes. He didn’t play at all in Game One.

Max Strus finished with 14 points, all of them in the first half, including four three-pointers in the first quarter. He was scoreless in the series opener and went 0-for-9 from long range.

Duncan Robinson turned the game around almost single-handedly Sunday night with 10 quick points in two minutes and four seconds at the start of the fourth quarter. He made only one of six shots in the first game, good for three points.

Whack a mole.

At the same time, two others who previously had showed they were threats to be accounted-for did little or nothing:

Haywood Highsmith played only six scoreless minutes in Miami’s victory—after putting up 18 off the bench when Denver won 104-93.

Caleb Martin, who torched the Celtics for 26 in the final game of that surprising series and averaged 19.3 points and hit 60.2 percent of 88 shots in the seven games, scored three for the second game in a row against the Nuggets and has attempted only 10 shots in two games. (Is the clock ticking on his next explosion?)

Whack a mole.

Through the first two games, Miami used 12 players, and 10 of them scored—seven in double figures at least once.

Denver, meanwhile, played only eight—the same eight. And five scored more than nine.

Miami’s bench accounted for 153 minutes in the first two games, to 115 for Denver, and outscored the Nuggets’ reserves 58-40 

Whack a mole.

Against Phoenix and the Lakers, the order of business was pretty obvious: shut down the Suns’ Kevin Durant and Devin Booker and limit Lebron and A.D. in L.A. 

Make the moles win the games.

Miami’s stud equivalent, Jimmy Butler, is explosive and understandably draws the most attention. Denver held him to 34 points, combined, in the first two games.

But when different role players claim their fifteen minutes of fame, as Andy Warhol liked to call moments of distinction, it raises the question for coach Michael Malone to consider: Would it be better to let Butler get his while neutralizing the snipers?

Whack a mole.

We now know there will be at least one more game in Denver. 

What we don’t know is which Heat players will surprise us next. 

Will those who disappeared earlier suddenly re-emerge?

Will someone who hasn’t yet caught fire suddenly step up?

Whack a mole.

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 15 books, nine of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at dennydressman@comcast.net.