The Nuggets, led by 27 points from Nikola Jokic and 26 by Jamal Murray, ripped visiting Miami 104-93 on Thursday for a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven championship series ahead of Sunday’s game two in Denver.
But Malone was not pleased about the opportunities the Nuggets allowed the Heat and urged players not to get swelled heads with pride over winning without playing their best.
“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.
“I told our players the reason I was excited this morning is because we won game one and we didn’t play well and there are so many things we can do better. If we do those things at a better level, we’ll have a chance to win game two.”
Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Jokic added 10 rebounds and 14 assists while Murray also contributed 10 assists as the Nuggets led by as many as 24 points in the third quarter before the Heat trimmed the margin in the final quarter.
“They were 5-of-16 on wide-open threes,” Malone said of Miami’s long-range shooting. “The fact they got 16 wide-open threes 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, 6-of-12 from the three-point line.
“I thought our pick-and-roll defense was poor. I thought our shrink the floor was poor… There are 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 two.”
Malone said he stressed tougher defending against Bam Adebayo, who led the Heat with 26 points.
“If you’re going to score 26 points on 25 shots, that’s something we’re willing to live with,” Malone said. “But we can do a better job. That’s something we talked about, giving him different looks, making sure we’re contesting, making sure we’re shrinking the floor.”
Malone is less concerned about making strategy adjustments than he is about matching what he expects will be a higher energy level from the Heat on Sunday.
“I expect the Miami Heat to come out with a much greater energy and force and attack mindset,” he said.
‘Going to be better’
Serbian superstar Jokic said the Nuggets stumbled with their large fourth-quarter lead.
“In the first three quarters, they score (63) points. I think that’s really amazing. And then they scored 30 in the fourth,” Jokic said.
“Some possessions we play amazing and some possessions we didn’t play good. Some quarters we played really good. That’s basketball. That’s why it’s a live thing. You cannot predict what’s going to happen.
“Of course we’re going to be better, but we’re going to take 1-0 for us. Just being focused for 48 minutes, I think that’s going to be the key.”
Denver forward Aaron Gordon, who scored 16 points in the opener, said the Nuggets can’t relax on Miami even with a big lead.
“You just can’t be complacent with this team,” he said. “You can’t be lackadaisical. You can’t sleep on this team. This team has no quit. They will continue to fight through the entirety of the game. You can’t take your foot off the gas with these guys.
“We need to cut down on the number of open looks that they get. Getting back in transition, keeping them off the offensive glass, and then just tightening up on the defensive end as well.”
In a city thrilled about the Nuggets’ first NBA Finals trip, the players must contain themselves.
“You have to keep a poise, like an intense energy but calm, while everybody else is really frenetic, ” Gordon said. “It’s important to just make the main thing the main thing and be focused on the task at hand.”
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