Michael Malone Says Some Nuggets Players Were 'Soft' in Game 4 Loss to Blazers

Blake SchusterContributor IMay 29, 2021

PORTLAND, OR - MAY 29: Michael Porter Jr. (1) and Aaron Gordon (50) of the Denver Nuggets sit on the bench during the third quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center on Saturday, May 29, 2021. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone had some harsh words for his players after falling 115-95 to the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. 

Commenting on the effort of his team, Malone said the Nuggets played "soft" and appeared stunned to even have to question his players' intensity. 

Mike Singer @msinger

Michael Malone said he felt like some of his guys were “tentative,” and “scared.” He went so far as to say some his guys played “soft.” <br><br>“I can’t believe we’re even talking about playing hard in a playoff game.”

The Nuggets were completely outplayed in the paint, allowing the Blazers to grab 40 defensive rebounds as well as giving up 46 points in the paint while scoring just 38 there. 

Malone said his message to the media wasn't new, either. He'd been pleading with his team to play tougher all game long but didn't get the response he was seeking. Following the loss, JaMychal Green agreed with his coach's assessment:

Mike Singer @msinger

JaMychal Green: “We got our ass whooped... That was embarrassing.”

None of this seemed to be a problem during the regular season. The Nuggets took two of three games from Portland and appeared to have a handle on their Northwest division rivals. 

Things have taken a bit of a turn in the Blazers' favor in the postseason. 

As Denver prepares to return home for Game 5, the Nuggets will have two challenges waiting for them: proving they're not as soft as their performance on Saturday showed, and taking a 3-2 series lead over the Blazers. If they can take care of the first task, the second one should take care of itself. 

Look for MVP finalist Nikola Jokic to lead the way in that area. Every bit of Denver's success begins with the big man. If he can't follow through on Malone's desire to play tougher, the Nuggets may not escape the first round.