Michael Malone: Nuggets 'Have Gotten Our Ass Kicked' by Jazz 2 Games in a Row

Blake SchusterAnalyst IIAugust 21, 2020

Denver Nuggets' Torrey Craig (3) and Utah Jazz's Rudy Gobert chase down a loose ball during the second half of an NBA basketball first round playoff game Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool)
Ashley Landis/Associated Press

Michael Malone didn't sugarcoat his assessment of the Denver Nuggets after getting routed 124-87 in Game 3 of the Western Conference First Round against the Utah Jazz.

"They're playing at a different level than us right now," the head coach told reporters. "This is two games in a row that we have gotten our ass kicked."

Denver trails 2-1 in the best-of-seven series and has been outscored by 56 total points after winning Game 1 135-125 in overtime on Monday. 

After shooting 51.6 percent from the field in their Game 1 victory, the Nuggets have been held to 45.7 percent in Game 2 and 37.5 percent in Game 3. 

The Jazz continue to adjust while Denver looks lost. 

Most importantly, guard Jamal Murray has been held to fewer than 15 points over the last two games after scoring a team-high 36 in the series opener. Denver is at its best when its offense is flowing through both Murray in the backcourt and Nikola Jokic in the paint. That hasn't happened since Game 1 and it's well past the Nuggets' turn to adapt.

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Asked what the mood was in locker room and what it was like during that rout for the Nuggets, Jamal Murray says, "We were just blown out twice." Murray says it is time for Denver to respond and he puts a lot on him as far as getting the tempo up and getting everyone involved.

While Malone is well within his right to call out his team's play, some of his club's deficiencies will fall back on the coach. 

Denver attempted just 11 free throws on Friday while allowing 16 points off turnovers and 48 points in the paint as Utah's Rudy Gobert notched 24 points and 14 rebounds. If the Nuggets can't use their notable size to cut off easy buckets in the frontcourt, this series may end quickly. 

The emergence of Mike Conley (27 points, 4 assists) on Friday—in his first playoff game after returning from the birth of his son further proved how slim the margin for error is for Denver's defense. In theory, the Nuggets have enough pieces to both match up and succeed against Utah—a team it swept in three games against during the regular season. 

That has hardly translated to the postseason and Denver is running out of time to prove it can find a solution.