An inability to hit perimeter shots was a secondary concern for Nuggets coach Michael Malone after Monday’s 106-97 loss to the Grizzlies in Memphis.
Denver finished 9 of 38 from 3-point range with Aaron Gordon’s 2-of-5 performance leading the team.
“This is what we do, and the ball is going to start falling for us,” Gordon said of the collective performance. “Then, you’ve just got to lock in defensively, too. If we’re not scoring on offense, we got to pick it up on defense.”
That was more of Malone’s concern. The Grizzlies owned a 55-40 edge in rebounding and a 58-40 advantage in points in the paint. Malone said Denver’s three losses have featured the opponent scoring 57 or 58 points in the Nuggets’ paint, while that number in the team’s four wins is in the mid-30s.
“You’ve got to understand why you win and why you lose in this business,” Malone said. “That’s three games now that we’ve lost that we’ve gotten our butts kicked in the paint. We have to do a much better job of fixing that.”
Ja Morant, the Grizzlies’ explosive lead guard, caused Denver’s defense the most problems, as he finished with 26 points on 22 shots. Tyus Jones added 17 off the Memphis bench behind a 5-of-7 mark from 3-point range.
“They were aggressive. They were attacking the paint. They were making some shots,” Nikola Jokic said.
“They were just better today.”
Jokic led the Nuggets with 23 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and four blocks. Aaron Gordon added 15 points, a good chunk of which came in the second quarter before he missed a stretch of the game after being poked in the eye. He added 10 rebounds to record his first double-double of the season. Monte Morris (11) and Michael Porter Jr. (10) were the only other Nuggets in double figures, but Porter missed all three of his 3-pointers with Morris finishing 1 of 5 from deep. The Nuggets are making just 31.3% of their 3-point attempts through seven games.
“We haven’t made shots from 3 the whole season, let’s be honest,” Malone said, lamenting the 38 attempts 3s against 15 free-throw attempts.
“When your jump shot’s not going, find other ways. Attack the basket, get to the free throw line, whatever it may be.”
The Nuggets trailed for much of the first half and fell behind by as many as eight points in the first two quarters. A strong stretch from Gordon included a blocked dunk, a post seal for a score and a dunk of his own that put the Nuggets up 58-57 in the final 30 seconds of the second quarter. Morant gave the Grizzlies a two-point halftime advantage with a 3-pointer, his only one of the game, in the final five seconds.
Jokic hit one of his two 3s midway through the third quarter to give the Nuggets a 70-69 lead, only for the Grizzlies to close the quarter on a 13-3 run. Memphis never trailed the rest of the way and led by as many as 14 early in the fourth quarter.
“One of the worst feelings for a coach is when you’re in search mode, just trying to find a group of guys or a player or two that wants to be here, wants to be in the building, wants to go out there and play with energy, fight and compete,” Malone said. “Those are not game plan things. That’s just the responsibility of each individual to be engaged. You can’t control makes or misses, but you certainly can control your effort and how hard you play in doing your job. I just didn’t feel that we had consistently enough of that from all of our guys tonight.”
The Nuggets are staying in Memphis for Wednesday’s game against the Grizzlies before hosting the Rockets on Saturday.