The Nuggets coach was incredulous after watching the Heat shoot 68.8% and score 36 points in the fourth quarter to take Game 2 111-108 at Ball Arena on Sunday night.
"Let's talk about effort," Malone said of the biggest issue plaguing Denver 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]. 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."
The Nuggets wasted a 41-point effort by Nikola Jokic in the loss. But Miami did something that has been successful for Nuggets' opponents this postseason: letting Jokic score but trying to take away his teammates.
Denver dropped to 0-3 this postseason when Jokic scores 40 or more points, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The Nuggets are 13-1 when the two-time MVP scores fewer than 40 points.
Compared to Game 1, when Jokic had 10 assists but took only three shots by halftime, the center was more aggressive offensively on Sunday. He scored 18 points in the third quarter, but Miami made him work. If Game 1 was Jokic orchestrating a Nuggets offensive symphony in building a 24-point lead, the Heat made Game 2 feel like hand-to-hand combat for much of the outing.
"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."
The Nuggets' free-flowing offense was disrupted by Miami's aggressive defense. Still, Jokic powered through the Heat in the third, giving the Nuggets an 83-75 lead entering the fourth.
"This is the NBA Finals. We are talking about effort. That's a huge concern of mine."Nuggets coach Michael 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."
The Nuggets drew Malone's ire during the film session following their Game 1 win as he pointed out how his team allowed Miami to shoot 60% and make 6 of 12 shots from behind the arc in the fourth quarter.
Following Game 2, Malone was upset about blown defensive assignments, fouls on jump-shooters and an overall lack of discipline from his team Sunday night, as Miami shot 11-for-16 in the fourth.
"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."
Veteran Denver forward Jeff Green echoed his coach's frustration and was perplexed how the Nuggets could be so indifferent on defense in the fourth.
"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."
Now, the Nuggets must regroup after their first loss at home this postseason.
"If we play like that, then we expect to lose like that," said Murray, who had 18 points and 10 assists. "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."