Denver allowed the Miami Heat to shoot just under 70 percent from the field to score an improbable 36 points in just the fourth quarter alone, resulting in a 111-108 loss that will see the series even before heading to Florida.
‘Let’s talk about effort,’ Malone said of the biggest issue with his squad in Game 2. ‘This is the NBA Finals. We are talking about effort. That’s a huge concern of mine.
‘You guys probably thought I was just making up some storyline after Game 1 when I said we didn’t play well. We didn’t play well.
‘Tonight, the starting lineup to start the game, it was 10-2 Miami. Start of the third quarter, they scored 11 points in [just over two minutes].
Nuggets head coach Michael Malone criticized his team’s defense in their 111-108 loss Sunday
Despite 41 points from Nikola Jokic, Miami’s 36 fourth-quarter points won them Game 2
The Nuggets shot better than Miami from the field but allowed the Heat to hit 17 3-pointers
‘We had guys out there that were just, whether feeling sorry for themselves for not making shots or thinking they can just turn it on or off — this is not the preseason, this is not the regular season.
‘This is the NBA Finals. That, to me, is really, really perplexing, disappointing.’
Denver couldn’t let an amazing performance from Nikola Jokic become the catalyst to a victory – as the Serbian dropped 41 points in vain.
‘They just put us in their rhythm,’ Jokic said. ‘And we didn’t want to play that way, and they want to, obviously. But maybe just to play a little bit faster is going to help us.’
Even though Miami was letting Jokic feast, they contained the performances from the rest of Denver’s ensemble – with everyone but the big man combining to shoot 23-47 (48.9 percent) from the field and 9-23 (39.1 percent) from 3-point range.
The Heat didn’t shoot much better from the field as a whole – putting up only 48.7 percent – but they knocked down more 3-pointers at a 48.6 percent clip to swing their advantage.
Additionally, Miami got to the line ten times more than they did the game before – going from having only two free throws in total in Game 1, to shooting 18-20 from the charity stripe on Sunday night.
Even with the Nuggets entering the half with an 83-75 lead wasn’t enough to stop Duncan Robinson from scoring eight straight points before Gabe Vincent buried a long-range shot to go up by one.
Malone said Miami was ‘getting whatever they wanted… and we had a hard time getting stops’
‘They started the fourth quarter 13-2,’ Malone said. ‘To me, the wheels really fell off to start that fourth quarter.
It was an excellent 23 point night for Gabe Vincent, who shot 8-12 from the field
‘They were getting whatever they wanted, 3s, layups, and that allowed them once again to sit back in their zone offense, slow the game down, and we had a hard time getting stops — and then we had a hard time getting made baskets on the other end.
‘Our defense has to be a hell of a lot better. That’s two fourth quarters, Game 1 and Game 2, where our fourth-quarter defense has been nonexistent.’
That fourth quarter from Game 1 saw Miami shoot 60 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc, leading Malone to ream the team out during a film session.
Lack of cohesion on the defensive front on Sunday was what brought Malone to his press conference in a sour mood.
‘Miami came in here and outworked us,’ Malone said. ‘And we were, by far, our least disciplined game of these 16 or 17 playoff games. So many breakdowns.
‘They exploited every one of our breakdowns and scored. If we’re going to try to go down there and regain control of this series and get home-court advantage back, we’re going to have to outwork Miami, which we didn’t do tonight, and our discipline is going to have to be off the charts.’
Both Jeff Green (L) and Jamal Murray (R) concurred with their coach’s assessment of the team
Even with the poor effort, Murray could have sent the game to OT, but missed his 3-point shot
To the credit of the Denver Nuggets, they too were not happy with their performance on the night – with veteran Jeff Green mirroring his coach’s anger.
‘It’s the f—ing Finals, man,’ Green said. ‘Our energy has to be better. We can’t come out like we did, and we have to be better.’
But even with the blown defense, Denver still had a shot to win the game after getting a defensive rebound with 11.1 seconds to go.
Malone chose not to call timeout as Game 1 hero Jamal Murray tried to send the game to overtime with a step back 3-pointer that clanged off the rim and into the hands of Miami’s Caleb Martin.
‘If we play like that, then we expect to lose like that,’ said Murray, who dropped 18 points and 10 assists on the night. ‘We can’t play like that, if we play away, home, on the road, doesn’t matter. We’ve got to have a better showing.’