Nuggets Coach Mike Malone Foreshadowed Denver’s Game 2 Collapse vs Timberwolves

Mike Malone, Minnesota Timberwolves at Denver Nuggets
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

After being thoroughly outplayed in game one, the Denver Nuggets found themselves on the ropes early in the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs. Despite the Minnesota Timberwolves not having new father Rudy Gobert in the lineup for game two, they came out with the same relentless defensive pressure that they showed during the opening salvo… maybe even more.

Yes, the Nuggets are the reigning champions. Nonetheless, even prior to game two, Mike Malone clearly felt a collapse might be coming. Even with home court advantage, something has been amiss for the 2023 title winners, and Denver’s failure to launch on Monday night was predicted by their own head coach.

Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray are superstars at the highest level, but the combination of Karl Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards had them scratching their heads for answers far more often than not during game one.

Jokic looked winded and Murray simply could not guard the much more athletic Edwards. While the former established his presence despite being at a size disadvantage, the latter looked every bit the part of Michael Jordan.

Mike Malone Sounds Off

Mike Malone -Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, NBA Playoffs
Credit: Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

If the Nuggets were going to make this a series against the Timberwolves then Michael Malone knew things had to change. Fearing a collapse coming for the reigning champs, he put the pressure on his stars to play up to their abilities. Speaking with reporters following the game one debacle, he needed to see more.

“At some point, man, you’ve got to stop doing the same things. We have to do a better job — and our stars, in particular — have to do a better job of being ready to play, of setting the tone early. What are we waiting for? Now, we’re down 0-1 — like, what are you waiting for? We all know that going back to Minnesota down 0-2 is not the ideal situation, so I think (on Monday) night to start the game, you’ll have your answer. And if we come out the same way — lackadaisical, not physical, not urgent — well, then there’s an issue there, a deeper lying issue than just stopping Anthony Edwards. Where is our mental (state) at? And I fully expect our guys to be ready to go tomorrow night. I’d be shocked if they weren’t.”

Mike Malone in a press conference before game 2 (quote via The Athletic)

Shocked is What Malone Gets

Expecting his guys to step up following a lackluster game one, his Denver Nuggets instead came out flat yet again. At one point, Minnesota mounted as much as a 32 point lead and, again, they did it without the DPOY lock in the same state. And in the aftermath of game 2, Mike Malone’s comments hours before tip, now seem like foreshadowing of what was to come.

Related: Stephen A. Smith Jumps on Timberwolves Bandwagon

The combination of Towns and Edwards both poured in 27 points a piece, and Naz Reid went off with Nickeil Alexander Walker to put up 14 each from the bench. Head coach Chris Finch was able to empty his bench with multiple minutes left to play, and both Josh Minott amd :uka Garza found their way onto the court during playoff action. The advantage that was supposed to be Denver’s home court had been thwarted, and the Timberwolves return home up 2-0.

A Homecoming for Minnesota

After sweeping the Phoenix Suns as the higher seed during the first round, the Minnesota Timberwolves are now in position to make the collapse Mike Malone felt coming work to fruition. They are in control of the series not heading back to Denver, and a raucous Target Center should be the expectation for Friday night’s matchup. Not only that, but this Wolves team has taken the league by storm during this NBA Playoff run, and d

Related: Stephen A. Smith Crowns Timberwolves as NBA Champs After Dominating Nuggets in Game 2

National analysts like Stephen A. Smith (ESPN) were on the Timberwolves before game two got underway, and the talk has since turned to them being full-blown championship contenders. While the franchise has been marred in futility for much of its existence, this is clearly a different animal. Rather than being the butt of the collapse, they are orchestrating it.

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