Down 2-1 to the Los Angeles Clippers, Nugget coach Michael Malone has more important things to do than worry about the opinions of instigator Patrick Beverley.
After Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals, the Los Angeles guard alleged Nuggets superstar Nikola Jokic has a penchant for “flailing” to draw fouls. Irony aside, the Clippers took 16 more free throws than Nuggets did in Game 3. And Jokic, who played 39 minutes and took 24 shots, drew just four free-throw attempts.
“I don’t listen to Patrick Beverley a whole lot,” Malone said. “If Kawhi Leonard was talking, maybe I might listen to it. Kawhi’s a great player. But all you gotta do is look at the stat sheet. (Ivica) Zubac attempted more free throws than Nikola Jokic. They shot 26 free throws, we shot 10. So, I’m not really sure what game Patrick is talking about or looking at. I really don’t warrant and give too much attention to that.”
Through three contests, Jokic has averaged only 3.3 free throws per game.
Jokic is typically mild-mannered, but when asked about the comment Monday night, he couldn’t help himself. After pointing out the disparity, a toothy smile crept across his face.
“I am just showing the ref that it’s a foul,” he quipped.
Murray misfires: That the Nuggets were even leading in the fourth quarter was a testament to how unstoppable Nikola Jokic was in Game 3. But the Nuggets badly needed more from his supporting cast. That began with Jamal Murray, and he knew it.
“It wasn’t really anything they did,” said Murray, after missing 12 of his 17 shots, including several open looks in the fourth quarter. “Not at all. I just missed so many shots. … I just gotta be better.”
Malone said Murray’s struggles were a reflection of the team’s defense as a whole. In Game 2, when the Nuggets held the Clippers to 41% shooting, it wasn’t a coincidence that Murray poured in a game-high 27. Unlike in Game 1, the Nuggets weren’t facing set defenses as often and Murray didn’t have to contend with the waves of Los Angeles defenders.
On Monday, Los Angeles shot 55% from the field as both Leonard (23 points) and Paul George (32) got loose. That made Murray’s job – to ease the pressure on Jokic and make the Clippers pay for their double-teams on him – significantly harder.
“We’re playing against a set defense,” Malone said. “Now they can throw body after body at Jamal Murray. They can put Patrick Beverley on him, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and just kind of wear him down.”
Even though the Nuggets were just 7 for 22 from the field in the fourth quarter and 1-of-9 from 3, Malone said he was pleased with the looks they got. The only thing he wanted to see was more unselfishness, believing that extra passes can undermine the Clippers’ elite perimeter defenders.
“I thought we could’ve had 40 assists last night (instead of 32),” Malone said. “I thought Jamal could’ve had 15 assists last night instead of the nine. Because they’re double-teaming so much, so when that happens, space the floor correctly, get off it quickly and let somebody else make a play. Trust the pass.”
After trailing 3-1 in the first round, the Nuggets are far from out of the series. They just need a bounce-back game from their second star.
“I don’t think Jamal Murray is going to go 5 of 17 from the field very often,” Malone said.