After watching his team muddle through a 121-101 home loss to the Boston Celtics on Sunday afternoon, Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone put out a missing persons report, looking for the Nuggets team that entered the All-Star break winning four of six games and talking about the possibility of a playoff run.
The Denver team he has seen in the first two games after the All-Star Game has been a defensive sieve, giving up 116 points in a road loss at the Sacramento Kings before watching the Celtics come into the Mile High City and shoot 50 percent in the first quarter on their way to a 35-17 edge after the opening period.
The Boston game also marked the third consecutive contest where the opposition has connected on 10 3-pointers. Prior to that stretch, Denver opponents had hit double-digit 3-pointers in just one of the previous nine games.
“Any time I’ve been around bad defensive teams, it always starts with their inability to guard the basketball,” Malone said. “The ball lives in the paint and it forces you into rotations which opens up the 3-point line. That’s two games in a row now (after the break) where we have given up 10 3s. Prior to the All-Star break, we were so much better in that area. I don’t know what happened over break. Guys are still on vacation but we have come out of the break with no sense of a defensive identity and that’s disappointing. We have to find a way to get that back.”
Perhaps more troubling than the lack of defense was the lack of overall hustle the Nuggets showed against the Celtics. Malone went as far as to use the word “quit” in his postgame interview.
“It was a lot more than a lack of energy. It was a lack of fight, a lack of togetherness,” Malone said. “We talked going into the game about taking care of the basketball. We had 24 turnovers and they had 29 points (off them). We talked about their ability to get out in transition. We had 24 fast break points allowed. We quit on a number of plays tonight and I thought we were a very selfish team. Those are two things I hate to see from any team.
“We had two plays tonight, one in each half, where there was a transition break by them and not one person made an effort to get back. Those two plays kind of symbolize the lack of effort and fight we had tonight. It’s really disappointing.”
In its second consecutive game since making just one major move at the trading deadline, sending Randy Foye to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for, among other things, D.J. Augustin and a pair of second-round picks, Denver looked flat. Malone opened wondered about the timing of his team’s slide on Sunday night.
“I’m very surprised. It hasn’t been who we’ve been,” Malone said. “Sometimes after the All-Star break and when that trading deadline is over with, you see true colors come out. I hope tonight was just an anomaly and not who we are. That’s my hope. We’ll find out in a couple of days when we play Sacramento (at home on Tuesday night) and in practice.”