Denver Nuggets

Mike Malone calls out Denver Nuggets, says team quit in blowout loss to Suns

June 10

Second verse, same as the first. 

On Wednesday, the Phoenix Suns took a 2-0 series lead in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals, blowing out the Denver Nuggets and NBA MVP Nikola Jokić, 123-98.

The Nuggets shot a dismal 40% from the field and went 14-for-43 from the 3-point range, while Suns star Chris Paul dominated with 17 points, 15 assists and no turnovers – the first player to have three separate 15-assist, 0-turnover games in NBA playoff history.

In the post-game press conference, Nuggets head coach Mike Malone didn't hold back his frustrations when speaking to the media. He was brutally honest, calling out players for moping around and having poor body language both on and off the court. He went on to say that he was utterly embarrassed by his team's performance and felt that his team gave up.

"We had no juice, no energy, no passion, no fight, no urgency, no grit, whatever adjective you want to use, we did not have it," Malone said. "I saw one team that wanted to be here, and played with a purpose and urgency, and one team that did not want to be here and played with no urgency, and that's why we got our a-- kicked.

"We had a lot of guys play really bad tonight. … This was just an embarrassing performance all around from top to bottom."

Malone almost changed his tune when asked about Will Barton's 10-point performance in his first action since going down with a hamstring injury on April 23 – but couldn't pass up the opportunity to continue to express his discontent.

"That was probably the only silver lining to a really rough night all the way around, was Will Barton, who hasn't played in over seven weeks … and gave us a lot of energy in that first half," Malone continued.

"I just told our players, 'It's embarrassing that a guy that hasn't been able to play for seven weeks was out there leaving it all on the line,’ and I don't think anybody else did. … We’re walking out of here with our heads held down, rightfully so. There’s a reason that their crowd is yelling ‘Suns in four’ and they’re calling for a sweep because if we play like this back in Denver, this is gonna be a really quick series."

In regards to what the Nuggets can do to turn things around as the series heads back to Denver, Malone didn't have anything positive to say, criticizing the team’s "soft mentality." 

"I felt we quit tonight, which is something you never want to see," Malone said. "So I guess for Game 3, I'm just going to try to find guys that will at least go out there and leave it all on the line. I may have a hard time coming up with five guys that fill that, but these two games, these second halves have really been disappointing, and that's an understatement.

"And you can't use, 'Hey, we're going home for Game 3,' as something you can rely upon. We have a great crowd, but if we play like this, they're going to boo us off the court, and rightfully so."

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While Malone stands firm in his opinion about what went down in Game 2, not everyone thinks the Nuggets were quitters, as Malone so frankly suggested. 

Denver's star center Jokić, who had 24 points, 13 rebounds and six assists on the night, spoke to the media immediately following Malone’s comments. When asked if he thought his teammates quit, the three-time NBA All-Star gave a somewhat vague answer. 

"I don't think so," Jokić said after a lengthy pause. "[The Suns] just outplayed us. … When you're losing a lot, you can always kind of put your head down … but I'm not sure that we quit. I didn't quit."

Should Malone’s comments merely be considered tough love or did he go too far? And, either way, was it wise to speak so candidly after such a big loss?

On Thursday’s "First Things First," Nick Wright shared his theory on why Malone would consider calling out his team on the heels of Jokić’s MVP win.

"Did Michael Malone sound like he has the MVP on his team?" Wright asked. "No, Michael Malone sounded worried and panicked because the best player in this series, the most valuable player in this series, the guy who knows how to win the most in this series, is the 6-foot-nothing point guard currently residing in the Greater Phoenix area."

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Wright’s co-host Brandon Marshall echoed his thoughts, saying that Malone's remarks presumably stem out of frustration that the Nuggets – collectively – aren't experiencing the level of success that Jokić has individually. 

"The story all year was about ‘Joker’ and how awesome he was and how efficient he was, and how he’s gonna be the MVP. Well, now he’s the MVP. The story was never about them being a great team and that they were going to possibly be the team to come out of the West."

On "Undisputed," Skip Bayless explained why he thinks Malone's comments about his team are "unacceptable" – but predictable – despite the Nuggets' poor showing. 

"After every loss, he’s got some new diatribe that he aims at his team.," Bayless said. "‘They’re soft, they’re scared,’ they’re this, they’re that. And last night, ‘they quit.’ After a while, it just rings hollow because if you watched him, he had actually written a speech before he got up to the podium to speak … it was premeditated and I think it was contrived. 

"It’s phony anger at your team as a way to take some blame off you and try to relight a fire that you can’t light because you keep trying to use the same kerosene on the fire and it no longer works anymore."

Nuggets' head coach Mike Malone was less than pleased with his team’s performance, saying 'I felt we quit tonight." Skip Bayless explains why Malone's postgame comments were unacceptable.

On the other hand, Bayless' co-host and NFL Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe believes it was the Nuggets’ performance – not Malone's remarks – that was unacceptable. 

"This is who he is, this is how he coaches," Sharpe said. "He did the same thing [when they] got blown out against Portland, and he said something very, very similar. … Now either one of two things happened. Either [Denver] quit, or Phoenix made them quit … He's absolutely right."

Now, Jokić and the Nuggets will head home to Denver for Games 3 and 4, looking to secure their first win in this best-of-seven series.

If they don't, they'll likely experience Malone's wrath all over again. 

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