Miami’s Whiteside magnifies Denver’s weak side: defense
With 5:28 left in the fourth quarter and just four points in the period to show for their troubles, the Nuggets had a decision to make Wednesday night: Turn up the defensive heat and get back into the game against a Heat team that struggles to perform under pressure, or stay on a similar course and be beaten at home.
The Nuggets couldn’t get off the path.
Miami’s Hassan Whiteside was solid throughout and Wayne Ellington provided the knockout punch with four 3-pointers in the fourth as the Heat ran to a 106-98 victory over the Nuggets at the Pepsi Center.
“They came in here ready to play, and we weren’t,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I thought Whiteside dominated us early, set the tone in the first quarter. Give him credit.”
For the Nuggets, the second and fourth quarters did them in.
This is how their score by quarters looked: 30 in the first, 17 in the
second, 33 in the third and 18 in the fourth. And the fourth quarter was where the Nuggets needed to maintain momentum. But they couldn’t.
They ended the third on a 14-4 run to take an 80-75 lead. But Miami hit back with a 17-4 run to start the fourth. Not only had the Nuggets allowed the Heat to cancel out their run at the end of the third, Miami took a lead that it would not relinquish.
Ellington helped cement the win, catching fire from behind the arc. He entered the fourth with 10 points but quickly knocked down his first three 3-pointers to get the Heat back on track. He added another for good measure, and it was enough to see Miami through. The Nuggets couldn’t make enough shots and couldn’t come up with the defense necessary to win.
“We allow them to score 31 points on 61 percent from the field, but more important, we had six turnovers for 13 points in that fourth quarter,” Malone said.
Porous defense was an issue all night. Heat guard Goran Dragic lived in the Nuggets’ paint. Many others drove right into the lane when they wanted. And that all compounded Whiteside’s big night.
The 7-foot center bludgeoned the Nuggets for 25 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots. He altered a number of other shots and was a big part of the Nuggets shooting just 41.8 percent from the field.
“We took a big step backward tonight, which is disappointing. And we’ll have to get to work on (Thursday),” Malone said.
The Nuggets did put five players in double figures — four with 17 points apiece. But none could carry the team. The Nuggets committed 19 turnovers, which the Heat — a good defensive team – turned into 28 points.
“Even though we had 28 assists, I thought we were easy to guard,” Malone said. “I don’t think the ball moved, I don’t think bodies moved. We stood around and watched each other. That’s not how we need to play.
“And I have to do a better job. We’re all in this together, players and coaches. I have to continue to do a better job with our team.”
Miami center Hassan Whiteside, center, smiles after hitting a basket against Denver on Wednesday. David Zalubowski, The Denver Post
Miami Heat guard Rodney McGruder attempts to block the shot of Nuggets guard Emmanuel Mudiay on Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center. Matthew Stockman, Getty Images