Even after watching his team fall to a 3-0 hole during a 116-102 Game 3 loss to the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference semifinals on Friday night, Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone , is hopeful that his team will not be eliminated via sweep on Sunday.
“I know for myself, I can’t speak for anyone else, the last thing I want to see is the Phoenix Suns with a broom on our court after Game 4,” Malone said. “We’ve had a tremendous, tremendous season. I said starting this year you can’t judge a season by the final result. We reached the Western Conference finals last year, certain things can happen, but we can have a better season this time. year, and not get that far.
“But the one thing I don’t want is for us to quietly walk out into that good night. I hope we show true struggle and resolve and force a Game 5 by returning to Phoenix for Game 5.”
Malone drew attention after the loss in Game 2 when he said he felt his team “gave up” as they were outscored by the Suns in the second half for the second straight game.
He seemed most pleased with his team’s effort after Game 3, taking comfort in the fact that his young group came out of a 3-1 hole twice during the bubble playoffs last season.
“As for the 3-0 deficit, yeah, history is not on our side,” Malone said. “But you know what? We’ve rewritten history in the last few years. When we were down 3-1 twice last year, it was never about trying to win three more games. It was about winning the next game, winning the first quarter, to win the second quarter, and that should be our mentality. “
The Nuggets also need to find a stronger resolve when it comes to defending All-Star Chris Paul, who has been burning the Nuggets throughout the series. That continued on Friday, when Paul had 27 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds in 37 minutes.
Paul’s stabilizing presence has been a big reason the Suns are one game away from Denver’s season ending. He has scored 30 points on 12 of 13 shooting, including 4 of 4 from 3 points, with eight assists and no turnovers combined in all three-fourths of this series, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information.
“We have to make it harder for him,” Nuggets guard Monte Morris said. “He’s a Hall of Fame point guard, in the top five easily, still plays in the NBA … He’s getting everyone involved. CP is a tough cover for anyone, but we have to stick to our game plan and try to execute it right. the best way we can.
Morris added: “W —, it’s 3-0. We have to leave it all there. We have nothing to lose. But we’re definitely not trying to get swept up before the offseason on our floor. That wouldn’t sit well.”
The only sentiment that sat well for the Nuggets centered on center Nikola Jokic, who received his MVP trophy before Friday’s game and then came out and scored 32 points, grabbed 20 rebounds and dished out 10 assists. Jokic joined Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to have 30 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in a playoff game, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information.
“It was a special moment,” Jokic said. “I enjoyed the moment. I wish my wife and parents could be here. I had my teammates behind me because this is my trophy, but it’s for all of them. So I have to thank them.”
If Jokic and the Nuggets lose Sunday’s Game 4, he would become the fifth MVP in league history to be swept in a playoff series, joining Magic Johnson (1989 Finals), Moses Malone (first round 1979), Abdul-Jabbar (1977 conference finals) and Wes Unseld (1969 conference semifinals).
“We have already experienced a [juego de cierre]”Suns guard Devin Booker said.” We know those guys aren’t going to give up. They have the MVP in the league there, they are well managed by Mike Malone and they have some players who play very hard. Nobody wants their season to end, so we know they are going to try everything and we are prepared for that. “
Malone said he hopes his team can straighten out before it’s too late.
“My only hope is that we haven’t let the rope go from what history tells us,” Malone said. “My only hope is that Sunday afternoon / night comes around, whenever that game is, our guys show up and fight. I think they deserve it, their teammates deserve it, and our fans deserve it, Get out there and leave it all on the line and you can walk off the court with your head held high. “
ESPN’s Royce Young contributed to this report.