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In the Denver Nuggets most recent loss, this time to the Brooklyn Nets, the Nuggets nearly completed a miraculous 29-point comeback in the second half by riding a wave of passion and intensity that was started by Nuggets head coach Michael Malone’s ejection.
Denver started the game about as poorly as possible but everything changed when Malone got ejected.
He was debating a foul and got his first technical of the game on a soft argumentative attempt. Once he obtained his first technical, Malone went nuclear. He had to be restrained by multiple assistant coaches while trying to argue the technical foul given to him, which earned him his second of the game and he was ejected with 7:37 left in the 3rd quarter.
The fire, passion, intensity and insane fervor that Malone displayed during his ejection resonated with his team. The Nuggets were a drastically different team after Malone was ejected. The Nuggets started from 7:37 left in the 3rd quarter and played with non-stop defensive intensity that helped rev up the offense. The injection of energy from Malone’s ejection was most obvious if you look at the box scores before and after Malone’s explosion.
The disparity is staggering. The Nuggets began doing what Malone has been imploring his team to do all year: they outworked the Nets the rest of the way.
Rebounding is almost purely a hustle statistic, one which the Nuggets currently lead the NBA with 49.8 a game, but they were tied with the Nets before Malone’s ejection with only 26 rebounds. After Malone’s ejection, the Nuggets proceeded to pull down 32 rebounds in just under 20 minutes to close out the game while limiting the Nets to just 16 boards.
The craziest difference was that in 28.5 minutes before Malone’s ejection the Nuggets managed to take a total of 52 shots. In the 19.5 minutes to close the game after the ejection the Nuggets got up an insane 53 shots and had 22 three-point attempts.
The Nuggets even began valuing the ball. Before Malone’s ejection the Nuggets 13 turnovers that turned into 21 points for the Nets but after the ejection Denver finished with just four turnovers for six Brooklyn points.
The Nuggets worked to get their shots, gain extra possessions, and to get the most out of their own possessions. Whether it was having 18 offensive rebounds to the Nets’ 2 or limiting turnovers, the Nuggets found a way to shoot themselves back from a 29-point deficit after Malone allowed his frustrations with his underachieving team boil over.
Malone has been vocal that his team has been outworked and has lacked energy on multiple occasions this season and it has been one of their biggest issues so far. Whether it is late game execution, holding leads, taking care of the ball, or any other way the Nuggets have found a way to lose this season Malone has taken responsibility every step of the way.
Look at these quotes from him throughout the season. Not once does he single out a player, whether warranted or not, and he consistently said exactly where the Nuggets struggled as a team while finishing by saying that the blame falls on him.
“That’s a lot of bad basketball, and it starts with me.” Malone continued on why he was upset with the loss to the Rockets, “It’s unacceptable to have a team come in here and outwork us.”
“To give up 42 points in the first quarter to a team that’s playing they (Rockets) got to the hotel at 5 o’clock in the morning. I apologize to our fans, they deserve better than that. The effort that we’ve given I’ve got to do a much better job of getting these guys ready to play.” He then finished with an explanation point, “We’re a bad team right now and I have to start doing a much better job because the direction we’re headed right now is in a bad, bad place.”
Malone continued these same sentiments after the November 30th loss to the Heat.
“We are all in this together, players and coaches, and I have to continue to do a better job with our team.”
Malone has taken credit for all of the losses; every single one of them. For that reason, it will be Malone that gets credit if the Nuggets turn this season around.
He knows this team is not going to be perfect and there will be peaks and valleys. He knows that there is no greater teacher then failure and he has said so. The talent is real in Denver and the Nuggets have the ability to make noise and sneak into the playoffs. If they do, it will be behind the desire and devotion of their head coach.
“It is trial and tribulation, learning from your mistakes, and trying to get better and that is why it is imperative as the head coach and the leader of this team to stay positive and continue to teach and show guys how we have to be better and how can be better.” Malone continued after the loss to the Raptors, “To your point, yes, I am encouraged where we are at. The record is not what we want but I’m not worried about the record right now. Are we getting better? As long as we’re getting better and we’re making strides then as the season goes along I think we will find our rhythm at some point.”
Should that hold true, we can point towards Malone’s outburst against the Nets as the keystone to this season’s turnaround.