DENVER – Michael Malone didn’t mince words about how he thought the Denver Nuggets played in Game 1.
After watching the film, the Nuggets head coach saw a variety of things he did not like even though Denver led by as much as 24 points before beating the Miami Heat, 104-93, in Game 1.
“I don’t think we played well in Game 1,” Malone said on Saturday. “I watched that tape, and they were 5 of 16 on wide-open 3’s. As I told our players this morning, the fact that they got 16 wide-open 3’s is problematic. And if you think that Max Strus is going to go 0 for 9 again or Duncan Robinson is going to go 1 for 5 again, you’re wrong.”
Malone cited that the Nuggets’ defense needs to play much better in the fourth quarter, when Denver surrendered 30 points and 60% shooting to allow the Heat to climb back within nine with 2:34 remaining on Thursday.
Malone’s message to the team was not to listen to any outside hype about how good Denver played in building that 24-point lead and Nikola Jokic finishing with a triple-double and Jamal Murray having a double-double in their Finals debut.
“I told our players today, don’t read the paper,” Malone said. “Don’t listen to the folks on the radio and TV saying that this series is over and that we’ve done something, because we haven’t done a damn thing.”
The message was similar to after the Nuggets’ Game 1 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals. The Nuggets built a 21-point lead only to see the Lakers get within three points on three separate occasions in the final four minutes.
Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who brings championship experience from his time with the Lakers, wanted to keep his teammates focused.
“Stay motivated,” Caldwell-Pope said of his message. “We’re here; don’t fumble the ball on the 1-yard line I would say. We’ve got three games left, let’s stay focused and let’s get this championship.”
The Nuggets know they simply cannot let their guard down against a scrappy Heat team.
“You just can’t be complacent with this team,” Denver forward Aaron Gordon said. “You can’t be lackadaisical. You can’t sleep on this team. This team has no quit. They will continue to fight through the entirety of the game. You’ve got to understand that about this team.
“You can’t take your foot off the gas with these guys.”
The Nuggets know they can shoot better from the outside, where they went just 8 for 27 from behind the arc. Michael Porter Jr. missed 9 of 11 3-point shots but liked the looks he got.
The Nuggets want to execute better against the Miami zone which was able to slow down the Denver offense a little bit in the fourth quarter.
“There definitely was a period in that game where we were just launching deep threes, contested shots,” Porter said. “I don’t think we’ve really seen a zone the way they do it, so it’s hard to make adjustments in the middle of a game when you don’t really know what’s going on.
“But that’s what the playoffs is about. We watch film, saw what they’re doing with their zone. Hopefully attack a little bit better and make a few more of those shots.”
Malone said he expects the Heat to make their adjustments, mostly in spirit and intensity for the start of Game 2.
“Knowing Spo the way I do, it’s not about adjustments,” Malone said of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “It’s about energy and effort. I know I learned a long time ago when I first got in the league, before you make an adjustment, you have to ask yourself two questions: Are we executing the game plan correctly, and are we doing it with energy and force?
“… I expect the Miami Heat to come out with a much greater energy and force and attack mindset tomorrow evening.”