They shot 50.6% from the field and held the Heat to just 40.6% shooting. They went to the free-throw line 20 times, and made 18 of those shots, while allowing the Heat to the line for just two foul shots all game. They had more rebounds, assists, fast-break points and points in the paint and, at one point, had a 24-point lead in winning Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Yet star center Nikola Jokic, who finished with 27 points on just 12 shot attempts, plus 14 rebounds and 10 assists, says there’s something the Heat should fear going into Sunday’s Game 2: That was not the best the Nuggets can do.
“Yes, of course,” Jokic said on Saturday at the Nuggets’ media availability, “we are going to be better.”
He was not all that impressed with Denver’s dismantling of the Heat in the opener, especially not during a fourth quarter that started with an 11-0 Miami run that turned a 21-point game into a shaky 10-point lead in the first three minutes.
“Some possessions we play amazing and some possessions we didn’t play good,” Jokic said. “Some quarters we played really good. I think that’s basketball. That’s why it’s a live thing. You cannot predict what’s going to happen.”
Mike Malone: Nuggets Did Not ‘Play Well in Game 1’
Nuggets coach Mike Malone almost sounded like he was the losing coach in Game 1 as the team prepare for the second showing. He noted that the Heat were abysmal shooting 3-pointers, just 13-for-39 overall after making 43.4% from the arc in their seven-game defeat of the Celtics in the conference finals. Many of the Heat’s missed, Malone concluded, were just unlucky, and that luck could quickly turn against Denver.
Malone, then, see the Nuggets playing better as a matter of necessity, not choice.
“I don’t think we played well in Game 1,” Malone said. “I watched that tape, and they were five of 16 on wide-open 3s. As I told our players this morning, the fact that they got 16 wide-open 3s 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. The fourth quarter, we gave up 30 points, 60 % from the field, 50% from 3, 6-for-12 from the three-point line.”
Nuggets Told to Avoid Finals News
The Nuggets, much like the Heat, have used an overall lack of respect from fans outside of Denver as a source of inspiration all season, and through the playoffs. There was a concern from Malone that the Nuggets might buy into the way many in the national media are portraying this series as effectively over based on the Nuggets’ Game 1 dominance.
He does not want the Nugs to lose the edge they’ve gained from the we-get-no-respect line.
“I told our players today, don’t read the paper, 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,” Malone said.
“We won Game 1. The reason I told our players I was excited this morning is because we won Game 1 and we didn’t play well, and 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 tomorrow night.”
He then rattled off some—many, actually—shabby areas for the Nuggets in Game 1: “I thought our pick-and-roll defense was poor. I thought our-shrink-the-floor was poor. I felt they got 11 offensive rebounds. Bam had four; Jimmy had three. So there’s so many areas we can clean up. I’m not worried about what they’re going to do. I’m worried about the things that we have to do better to try to win Game 2.”
Jokic, for one, is sure the Nuggets will, indeed, do those things better.