SAN ANTONIO -- Denver head coach Michael Malone once again challenged the Nuggets, especially Jamal Murray, to play more physical and take things more personally against Derrick White and the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4.
"Derrick White didn't feel us last night," Malone said at the Nuggets' team hotel a day after White scored a career-high 36 points with 24 of them coming in the paint. "He woke up this morning probably feeling very spry because he had the easiest 36 points he's ever had and that can't happen."
"I'm hoping that [Murray] kind of has the same reaction Derrick White had," Malone added of Murray's mindset entering Game 4 on Saturday. "Derrick White was a recipient of Jamal Murray's great play in the fourth quarter of Game 2 and he came out in Game 3 highly motivated and in attack mode. And we got to get Jamal playing at a higher level. In 12 quarters, Jamal has impacted the game at a high level in one of those. And Derrick White right now is at 23 points per game, 69 percent from the field [for the series]. Jamal has got to take that personally and I expect that to happen tomorrow afternoon."
White has played like the best player in this best-of-seven, first-round series and it's why the second-seeded Nuggets trail seventh-seeded San Antonio, 2-1. White dominated Murray and the Nuggets in Game 3, getting layups and making 12-of-14 shots in the paint on Thursday night.
An upset Malone told his team on Friday that it needed to be much more physical against the Spurs while showing them exactly that in a film session. He implored the Nuggets to hit first on Saturday.
"Like how many times are you going to watch a guy just go to the basket for a layup," an exasperated Malone said. "I know that maybe because my father [Brendan was an assistant] with Detroit and the Bad Boys and the game has changed quite a bit but this is really a fine line [and] I don't want anything to be construed as hey we are going to play dirty. We are not a dirty team. We don't have that mentality. That's just not who we are and the rules don't allow that. Thank goodness.
"But you have to be willing to [deliver] a hard foul sometimes because when a guy gets that comfortable, it was 36 points,  was in our paint, at some point this becomes ridiculous. It's on our guards because he didn't feel us. It's on our bigs. It's on whoever is near the basket, send a message, put him on the foul line, make him earn it. I'm not saying play dirty, but in the playoffs, it's got to be physical basketball and you got to make teams earn everything and it was way too easy for them."
Malone also let the NBA know what he thinks the officials are letting San Antonio get away with, including what he believes was an illegal screen set by Jakob Poeltl near midcourt on Murray which the guard took exception to believing Poeltl stuck his leg out.
"I don't think it was dirty," Malone said. "I don't think they're a dirty team. I know Coach [Gregg Popovich], it's not anything he preaches. I thought it was an illegal screen. Either a trip or an illegal screen. You can't have your feet outside of the base of the shoulders and I thought the width of the screen and his feet were too wide. So it should have been something... I did think it was an illegal screen obviously and it is one of those clips that we will send in [to the NBA] and kind of wait to see... it doesn't really matter because it is not like you send the clips in, they can change it. Just trying to point out some of the screens that we think are being set illegally."
"If you set physical screens the whole game like they do, the refs will let you play," Malone added. "... Jakob Poeltl sets really good moving screens. And he does it the whole game and he gets away with it."
Murray has struggled on both ends at times during this series outside the fourth quarter of Game 2 when he scored 21 points in the Nuggets' win. He scored six points in Game 3 and is shooting 35.6 percent from 3-point range in the series. Point guard Monte Morris texted with Murray after Game 3 and says the Nuggets' young shooter will rebound in Game 4.
"His head is fine," Morris said. "... I just [texted him last night and] told him it's midnight, it's a new day. It's basketball. The good thing about a series, you get a day off and you're right back at it again. I said trust yourself. You're our anchor. You got us this far the whole season playing your style of basketball, being aggressive, having fun. That's the Jamal Murray I'm used to seeing.
"He said that will be on full display in Game 4."