In the disappointing aftermath of Sunday night’s second game, Nuggets coach Michael Malone asked his team if they knew why they suffered their first playoff home loss.
According to Malone, the answer was not elusive. They knew where he was coming from.
“Let’s talk effort,” Malone said after Miami won Game 2 with a 111-108 win, snatching home court advantage in the process. “It’s the NBA Finals, we’re talking about effort; that’s a huge concern for me.
Malone attempted to warn curious media tempted to consider the series over after Game 1 when he insisted the Nuggets weren’t playing well. But Sunday reaffirmed the defensive lapses he saw when he expressed concern. He knew Miami, which had been a great 3-point shooting team throughout the playoffs, wasn’t going to stay cold for long.
This effort which he cited trickled down to many alarming aspects of the night.
“We had guys there who felt sorry for not making shots or thought they could just turn it on or off, it’s not preseason, it’s not regular season “Malone said. “It’s the NBA Finals. For me, it’s really, really perplexing, disappointing.
The Heat opened the first quarter on a 10-2 run, which was a first indictment of the starters’ commitment. Up 57-51 at halftime, the Nuggets squandered that cushion less than four minutes into the third quarter, dropping a 15-9 run due to a lackadaisical, disconnected perimeter defense.
It took a Herculean effort from Nikola Jokic in the third quarter — he scored 18 points to give the Nuggets a brief lead — but Denver didn’t approach the fourth quarter with a sense of urgency. A 13-2 run to start, propelled again by a disengaged 3-point defense, foreshadowed an embarrassing defensive performance in the fourth quarter. Miami had 36 points in the final quarter on 69% shooting. The Nuggets were less than 12 minutes from a 2-0 lead before the wheels fell off.
“There were communication issues, game plan breakdowns, personnel breakdowns,” Malone said as he audited immediately after what happened from the 3-point line, where Miami dumped 17 of 35.
Max Strus and Gabe Vincent sank four 3-pointers apiece. Duncan Robinson and Kyle Lowry sank two each, as did Kevin Love. They were the result of slow turns, lethargic closes, assignment breakdowns, and disrespectful shooters.
“These are guys that we’re supposed to be more aware of,” Malone said. “As I mentioned after Game 1, the fact that they got 16 wide open threes was concerning. They didn’t manufacture them. So we got lucky in Game 1.”
In terms of discipline, they foul the jump shooters. In terms of conscience, they did not raise their defensive missions high enough. Malone called on first contact on the “four point line”.
Says Jamal Murray: “It was more discipline. It’s a loss when you give up on mistake after mistake, and it’s not them beating you, you’re giving them open dunks or open shots.
Asked specifically about the team’s efforts, Jeff Green’s words speak volumes, conveying a frustration that permeated the entire locker room. A handful of starters, including Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon, did not speak to members of the media after the game.
“It’s the (expletive) endgames, man,” Green said. “Our energy needs to be better. We can’t go out like we did, and we have to be better.
Jokic, despite his 41 points, said this aspect should be non-negotiable.
“I mean, yeah, sure, that can’t be a question,” he said.
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