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NBA Finals: Nuggets’ Michael Malone explains ‘problematic’ issue vs. Heat in unimpressed review of Game 1

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The Denver Nuggets led Game 1 of the 2023 NBA Finals by double digits for the majority of the time, as they largely cruised to a series-opening victory over the Miami Heat. But while such a result dazzled many of those watching from afar, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone was not impressed. 

“I don’t think we played well in Game 1,” Malone told reporters after practice on Saturday. “I watched that tape, and they were 5-of-16 on wide-open 3’s. As I told our players this morning, the fact that they got 16 wide-open 3’s 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.”

“I told our players today, don’t read the paper,” Malone added. “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.”

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The Nuggets were able to jump out to an early lead and maintain control of the contest in large part because the Heat could not hit a shot through the first three quarters. While the Heat’s final numbers suggest they were decent from outside — 13-of-39 (33.3%) — that was only because they went 6-of-12 in the fourth quarter when the game was already out of hand. Had a few of those shots went in earlier, there would have been a much different tenor to the contest. 

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And as Malone noted, the Heat did have some good looks. Their 16 wide-open 3s in Game 1 was higher than their average of 11.6 wide-open attempts per game in the playoffs, and their 31.2% mark on them was much lower than they’ve been shooting on such attempts. 

You cannot expect a team to shoot that poorly if you continue giving them a plethora of clean looks. All it takes is a few to go down to flip their confidence. 

“We’ve been through this before. Like, they are ignitable,” Spoelstra said of Strus and Caleb Martin, who combined to shoot 1-of-11 from downtown in Game 1. “They have heard it from us. They will hear it from us. I love those looks that those guys get. I love it when they see a couple, two or three go down; that can turn into five or six.”

While the Nuggets have to tighten up their defense, it is worth noting that Miami has been quite streaky from outside and did not shoot the ball well overall in the regular season, when they finished 27th in the league. Here’s a look at their overall 3-point shooting:

Regular season

34.8

34.4%

First round

34.2

45%

Second round

38.2

30.6%

Conference finals

29.3

43.4%

Finals

39

33.3%

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And their wide-open 3-point shooting:

Regular season

13.7

37.1%

First round

10.4

42.3%

Second round

14.2

37.6%

Conference finals

9.6

58.2%

Finals

16

31.2%

Are the Heat going to go 5-of-16 on wide-open 3s again? Probably not, but they are certainly capable of having a cold series from the outside. From Malone’s perspective, though, he’s right in that his team has to defend better and should not rely on that happening. 


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