Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone wasn't happy with his team's effort during a 111-108 loss to the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the 2023 NBA Finals on Sunday night. Malone didn't think his team came out with the requisite energy, and he expressed his frustration publicly after the game.
"Let's talk about effort," Malone told reporters. "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]. 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."
Malone pointed to the start of the fourth quarter as the point when things really started to go south for Denver. The Heat outscored the Nuggets 13-2 to start the quarter, with reserve guard Duncan Robinson accounting for 10 of those points. When it was all over, the Heat outscored Denver 36-25 in the fourth quarter, and that was a big factor in the outcome.
It was the second straight game that Miami outscored Denver by double-figures over the final 12 minutes of action, and that is obviously of concern to Malone.
"They started the fourth quarter 13-2," Malone said. "To me, the wheels really fell off to start that fourth quarter. 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."
Denver's issues weren't just limited to the final frame, though. They just weren't as locked in as one would have expected them to be from early on, as they had several miscommunications that led to missed assignments and mistakes in the first quarter alone. Miami was able to shoot nearly 50% from 3-point range in the contest, and some of that success was the direct result of defensive breakdowns on Denver's part.
"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."
Denver might be a more talented team than Miami on paper, but games aren't won on paper, and the Heat have proven throughout this playoff run that they'rethat won't go down without a serious fight. After dropping the first game, the Heat came out with an added level of intensity in Game 2 and they were able to respond. Now, it's Denver's turn to try to do the same.