The Denver Nuggets have made history in twice coming back from 3-1 deficits this postseason, but coach Michael Malone assured everyone that this is not where his team wanted to be again.
Denver is the first team to win back-to-back NBA playoff series after falling behind 3-1, stunning Utah in the first round and the LA Clippers in the second round. But Malone says the Nuggets don’t feel like they have the Los Angeles Lakers right where they want them in the Western Conference finals.
“Obviously, we have been here twice and we have answered the call, if you will,” the Nuggets coach said Friday. “To be honest, I think in the second round against the Clippers, the Clippers were the odds-on favorite to win the whole thing, ahead of the Lakers. The Clippers are a great team. The Lakers are a great team.”
“I think people out there probably think this is exactly where we want them,” Malone added with a smirk. “It’s not. We would much rather be up 3-1, but it is what it is.”
As Denver faces the unenviable task of trying to win a third straight series after being down 3-1, Malone at least knows going into Saturday’s Game 5 against the Lakers that the Nuggets have played their best basketball in this situation. They have won six straight elimination games.
And the Nuggets are hoping for more favorable whistles after Jamal Murray said he “did get fouled on a few” when he drove twice in the last four minutes of Game 4 and got no call. The Lakers won 114-108.
Malone said the Nuggets sent instances where they felt calls were warranted to the NBA office, something teams do throughout the season.
“Fouls are fouls,” Malone said Friday. “Obviously, we have sent in some of the clips that we felt were missed last night. We’ll leave it at that and wait on the NBA’s response.”
After Lakers coach Frank Vogel said the team went through the “proper channels” to show the league that it felt LeBron James had been fouled several times with no call in the first three games of the series, James shot 11 of 14 from the free throw line in Game 4, and Anthony Davis was 13 of 14. Together, Davis and James made one more free throw than Denver attempted the entire game.
Malone said after Game 4 that he probably was “going to have to go through the proper channels like they did.”
Malone, though, made it clear that the Nuggets lost Game 4 on the offensive glass. The Lakers grabbed 12 offensive rebounds, six coming from Dwight Howard alone, and had 25 second-chance points.
“We can get caught up in that and use the refs as an easily, readily available excuse if we want,” Malone said. “I’m not going to, because we didn’t lose the game last night because of anybody except ourselves. We did not meet the fight on the glass.”
It’s always possible that Malone might make a lineup change to combat the Lakers’ size and rebounding after Vogel inserted Howard into the starting lineup for Game 4.
But Malone has seen his team fight like no other in NBA history when down 3-1.
“We put ourselves in this position,” Malone said. “Our team has shown tremendous resiliency and grit in getting out of these before. I have no doubt that tomorrow night we’ll bring that same fight to the game and hopefully we can keep this series alive.”