Friday, January 28, 2022

Nuggets’ Michael Malone rips team after blowing 25-point lead to Clippers, questions their competitiveness

Late on Tuesday night, the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers played one of the most bizarre games in recent memory. Despite both teams finishing with fewer than 90 points, the Clippers managed to stage a 25-point comeback to steal an 87-85 win and cause Nuggets head coach Michael Malone to call out his team. 

With 7:04 left in the third quarter, Nikola Jokic knocked down two free throws to give the Nuggets a 59-34 lead. Over the remaining 19 minutes, the Clippers outscored the Nuggets 53-26 to tie a franchise record for biggest comeback victory. Reggie Jackson led the way, scoring 11 points down the stretch in the fourth quarter, including a thunderous slam on Nikola Jokic. 

When he arrived at the podium for his post-game press conference, Malone was understandably frustrated. When asked if the players were as upset as him, he questioned his team’s competitiveness. 

“Losses like this keep me awake for weeks,” Malone said. “I think today’s NBA player, they’re worrying about where they’re going out tonight. Or what’s gonna happen. I can’t speak to that. I wasn’t in there hanging out with them after I spoke to them briefly. 

“We had a lot of guys running away from the ball in big moments,” Malone continued. 

This is not the first time Malone has gone to such lengths to criticize his team. Earlier this season he benched his starters for not playing hard enough in a loss to the lowly Oklahoma City Thunder, and during last season’s second-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns he said his team quit in their Game 2 defeat. 

Whether you agree or not with his motivational tactics, this is how Malone operates, so it’s not surprising that he challenged his team publicly after a collapse. There’s always a bit of luck involved with blown leads like this — shot-making swings from one team to the other — but there were also too many disappointing moments from the Nuggets on both ends of the floor late in the game. They were sloppy with the ball, failed to get Jokic touches against mismatches time and again, and gave up a number of open looks on defense. It was just bad basketball all around, and Malone chalked it up to effort, as he usually does. 

Likewise, it wasn’t surprising to see the often laid-back Nikola Jokic take a different approach. 

“That’s our season right now,” Jokic said. “Sometimes we’re good, sometimes we’re bad.”

With Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. sidelined with long-term injuries, that’s a correct assessment of the Nuggets’ situation. They’re just above .500 at 20-19, have a minus-0.4 net rating and are hanging on to the sixth spot in the Western Conference. Sometimes they’re good and sometimes they’re bad. 

But no matter what’s going on with your roster, you simply have to win when you hold a team to 28 points in the first half and have a 25-point lead in the middle of the third quarter. 

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