Before Game 2, the Nuggets are ticked and the Heat are hopeful

Jun 3, 2023, 4:05 PM | Updated: 4:07 pm

On a dreary, rainy Saturday afternoon in downtown Denver, Nuggets coach Michael Malone’s mood matched the weather. It was as if Malone wanted his team to fall apart in the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Finals. He was giddy to be bummed out.

“I don’t think we played well in Game 1,” said Malone. “I watched that tape and they were 5-of-16 on wide-open threes. As I told our players this morning, the fact they got 16 wide-open threes was problematic. If you think Max Strus is gonna go 0-for-9 again or that Duncan Robinson is going 1-for-5 again, you’re wrong.”

Nothing fuels a coach looking to motivate a superior team than evidence that they are terrible.

“In the fourth quarter, we gave up 30 points,” gleefully scowled Malone. “I told our players today, ‘Don’t read the paper. Don’t listen to the folks on the radio or TV saying that this series is over and that we’ve done something.’ We haven’t done a damn thing.”

After attempting to crush the critical pro athlete ratings demographic, Malone continued to fire away.

“We won Game 1,” explained Malone. “The reason I told our players I was excited this morning was we won Game 1 and we didn’t play well. There’s so many things we can do better. If we do those things at a better level, we’ll have a chance to win Game 2.”

Malone was now on a roll and didn’t hold back about how horrific the Nuggets really were.

“I thought our pick-and-roll defense was poor. I thought our shrink-the-floor was poor,” harangued Malone. “They got 11 offensive rebounds. So, there are so many areas we can clean up. So, I’m not worried about what they are going to do. I’m worried about the things we have to do better to try and win Game 2.”

Somebody check on the neighbor’s dog to make sure it wasn’t run over!

The coach’s words somewhat resonated with his best players.

“Some possessions, we played amazing; some possessions, we didn’t play good,” said Nikola Jokic. “That’s basketball. That’s why you can’t predict what’s gonna happen. Yes, of course we are gonna be better, but we’re gonna take 1-0 for us. Just being focused for 48 minutes is going to be the key.”

Jokic has heard the badgering from Malone so much his rote answers often fall into cliches. It’s a defense mechanism to show the coach you are somewhat listening.

Jamal Murray spent time going into details of their “failures.”

“When they went zone, (Jokic) missed an open 15-footer. I missed an open 10-footer. Mike (Porter Jr.) missed a wide-open three. I missed a catch-and-shoot on the wing,” explained Murray with a shrug. “There’s a couple more, but, you know, we got the looks we needed. We just didn’t knock them down. If we knock them down, it will break up their zone a little bit and go back to man (defense). But, it doesn’t matter. I think we played a good game and they were trying to fight back all game. So, I thought we did a good job of maintaining the lead by playing the clock and not turning the ball over.”

Leave it to the Canadian to keep things balanced and polite.

Meanwhile, the Heat sounded like they had just come from a Stuart Smalley affirmation seminar.

“I want you to take the same shots because they are going to be there,” said Miami star Jimmy Butler about his words to his teammates that couldn’t throw a ball into the Atlantic Ocean while standing on the sands of South Beach. “We are going to throw you the ball, so stay aggressive because you’ve been the reason we’ve won so many games before. You are going to be the reason why we win games now and that’s never going to change.”

Butler’s confidence in his teammates seemed more forced than explaining to your mom why you loved eating broccoli as a kid.

“I have a lot of faith in those guys,” said Jimmy Buckets. “So, I’m in their corner. Bam’s (Adebayo) in their corner. Spo (coach Eric Spoelstra), Coach Pat (Riley), everybody. So when everybody’s in your corner, you only have one job to do. Shoot the ball.”

Can’t you just picture the Heat as a team staring lovingly into a looking-glass?

“I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, Max Strus will hit a three-pointer!”

Butler said if Strus misses 10 in a row, get ready for number 11. Strus may want to feast on a plate of uncooked Rocky Mountain Oysters more than he wants his next open shot.

Spoelstra didn’t back off their intended approach echoing the sentiments of Butler.

“You can’t be a robot,” said the Heat head coach. “We want everybody to be aggressive. We want everybody to be a live option. In terms of the shooters, that’s pretty simple – let it fly. Ignite. Once they see two go down, it could be three, it could be six (snaps his fingers), just like that. As long as we are getting those clean looks, that’s all that matters.”

The truth is there aren’t going to be any significant adjustments made by either team. Both sides will simply do what got them to this place except try to do those things better.

So which team, if both do what they vow to do, will be better if they are better?

Had the Nuggets won by 30 not 11, you could possibly imagine a let down. That’s not happening now. The Heat are banking on their underdog persona toppling a sleeping giant. Spoelstra admitted that the insane free throw disparity was well-earned, as his team simply didn’t attack the basket. After all, the referees can only blow calls when there are possible calls to be made.

It all seemed a bit desperate.

Butler said he’s responsible for generating intensity to the rim. He promises he will get it done.

Adebayo seemed exasperated facing questions about the Nuggets allowing him to shoot. It was as if a legit NBA superstar was being picked last for dodgeball in fifth grade.

“Hey, Bam, is a great day for you, a better night for Denver?”

As the Heat were speaking on Saturday afternoon, if you closed your eyes, you could conjure the melody of “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. The situation is so hopeless for the Heat, Butler spoke of things more important than basketball.

“My daughter’s gonna love me whether we win or lose,” said Butler detailing that he was headed to an Escape Room with his visiting offspring after practice.

The Heat aren’t going to change anything because they can’t change anything. This is it for their magical season. No Herro is going to save them.

I’m sure Malone is ticked that victory is inevitable.



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