In a stunning development, poor effort cost Nuggets Game 2 of NBA Finals

Jun 4, 2023, 9:55 PM

NBA Finals Game 2...

Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

DENVER—Michael Malone came into the NBA Finals telling anyone that would listen that this would be the biggest test of the Denver Nuggets lives.

He had the same message after the Nuggets walked past the Miami Heat in Game 1. Yeah, Denver won and did so comfortably but a strong fourth quarter and a ton of missed Miami shots made Malone worry and utter the same message.

That message, that the Nuggets head coach was telling all, wasn’t heard by his Nuggets. Denver dropped Game 2 of the NBA Finals 111-108, blowing a 15-point lead.

“Let’s talk about effort. This is NBA Finals, we are talking about effort; that’s a huge concern of mine,” Malone said moments after the loss on Sunday night. “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 two minutes and 10 seconds. 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.”

Miami made a change in their starting five and Denver looked unprepared for the Heat to start power forward Kevin Love. After falling down 11 early the Nuggets exploded to a 15-point lead just a quarter later. But it was downhill from there. A huge spurt to start the fourth quarter where the Heat scored 17 points before Denver hit a field goal did Denver in.

“It’s the f****** Finals, man. Our energy has to be better,” veteran NBA forward Jeff Green, who helped lead that second quarter run said. “We can’t come out like we did, and we have to be better.”

The Nuggets got a shot up at the buzzer, a Jamal Murray three, that would’ve tied the game had it fallen. But it wasn’t true, even after hitting five-straight shots.

“I think he got off a decently good look. Kind of like a high pick-and-roll isolation, and I just contested it. Pretty glad that he missed it to give us a 1-1 series tie going back to Miami,” Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “We made shots. That’s what this league is, that’s what this game is, make-or-miss game, make-or-miss league. We made some shots; they didn’t.”

Butler scored 21 points, a second-straight somewhat down game for the star of the Heat. Meanwhile, Jokic went for a game-high 41 points but he was held to just four assists.”

“Yeah, that’s ridiculous—that’s the untrained eye that says something like that,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of making Jokic a scorer. “This guy is an incredible player. You know, twice in two seasons he’s been the best player on this planet. You can’t just say, Oh, make him a scorer. That’s not how they play. They have so many different actions that just get you compromised. We have to focus on what we do. We try to do things the hard way, and he requires you to do many things the hard way. He has our full respect.”

Overall Jokic was for sure good enough for the Nuggets to steal a win in Malone’s eyes, but he didn’t have the cast that’s helped Denver to just three wins away from their first-ever title.

“Jamal had a great look at the end. I told our guys, if we would have won this game tonight, we would have stole one, and it didn’t happen,” Malone said. “Miami came in here and outworked us, and we were by far our least disciplined game of this postseason. 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.”

Miami shot a very hot 48.6% from three, hitting 17 from deep. It’s the sixth time in these playoffs they have shot at least 48.5 percent from three as a team—and it only happened three times over their 84 games during the season. Yeah, it’s likely unsustainable but it’s two games in a row Denver’s perimeter defense lacked.

“Yeah, the three-point line is a huge concern coming in, the No. 1 three-point shooting team in these Playoffs and did a decent job in Game 1 by the numbers, but tonight they buried us,” Malone said.

So the Nuggets are to Miami with the NBA Final tied at 1-1, teams that come into an NBA series with home-court advantage that split after winning the first game still 49-25 in best-of-seven series (66% win percentage.) Still, now the Nuggets will need to win one in Denver if they’re going to capture hardware.

The good news is effort cost the Game 2 of the Finals and it still came down to a Murray miss to take the Nuggets to lose.



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