After watching LeBron James go to the line 14 times and seeing Jamal Murray hit the floor a few times without a whistle late in Game 4, Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone said his team might do what the Los Angeles Lakers did and reach out to the NBA about fouls.
“They went to the foul line 35 times,” the Nuggets’ coach said after the Lakers took a 3-1 lead over Denver in the Western Conference finals with a 114-108 victory Thursday. “I think I’m going to have to go through the proper channels like they did to see if we can figure out how we can get some more free throws.”
Malone was referencing what Lakers coach Frank Vogel said on Wednesday when asked about James’ 10 total trips to the free throw line in the previous three games of the West finals. Vogel said the Lakers “were dealing with the fouls through the proper channels with the league.”
On Thursday, James made 11 of 14 from the line and finished with 26 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists. Anthony Davis made 13 of 14 free throws and scored 34 points. The superstar duo’s 24 combined free throws made was more than Denver’s 23 overall trips to the line.
Asked if the Lakers’ tactic of going to the league about foul calls worked, Malone said he didn’t know.
“I just know they went 35 [times] and we went 23,” Malone said. “I think late in the game Jamal Murray attacked the basket a few times where it appeared to be contact. We’ll watch the film and send our clips in. We’ll reach out to the NBA and kind of make our points noted. Whether them going through the proper channels affected tonight or not, I have no idea. The NBA does a great job of listening. You hope that next game maybe some of those fouls are called.”
Murray scored 32 points, 10 coming in the fourth. He also went to the line four times in the final quarter but felt he should have had more free throws. He missed on two driving layups in the last 3:46 when the Nuggets trailed by four and three points, respectively.
“Respectfully, obviously, they’re trying to do their job,” Murray said when asked what kind of feedback he got back from the officials. “I mean, I did get fouled on a few. We could see the replay clearly. The same thing when [Utah’s] Rudy Gobert fouled me when we lost Game 4 [in the first round]… My team shows respect any time you talk to them.”
“LeBron is going to go get his,” Murray added. “But we just have to look ahead and play through it. … We’re a young team. We’re the younger team, youngest team, whatever we are. Look at where we’re at. We’re going to have to earn their respect if we’re going to want to prevail.”
After Game 1, in which the Lakers went to the line 24 times in the second quarter during a 126-114 win over Denver, Murray said, “They want to talk about every call and have full conversations and try to manipulate what happens” and that the younger Nuggets know the deal.
As he was in Game 1, Nikola Jokic was in foul trouble and had five fouls in Game 4. But Malone says fouls were not what decided Thursday night’s game; it was the Lakers’ 25 second-chance points. Dwight Howard, who was inserted into the starting lineup, had six offensive rebounds, and Rajon Rondo had two. Those were as impactful as anything in this game.
“That was the reason we lost this game,” Malone said. “Most disappointing was it happened from the jump ball. I thought Dwight Howard in that first half had a tremendous impact on the game.”
“Possessions where we played really good defense,” Malone added. “And just didn’t finish it, which gave them extra possessions, extra life, extra opportunities. The ability to defend without fouling.”
Malone and the Nuggets will need another monster game from Murray. And they hope the guard will get some favorable calls in Game 5 as well.
“I played him I think the last three games, including tonight, 45, 44, 43,” Malone said. “I’m running the poor kid into the ground. When I take him out, things seem to go sideways in a hurry. He’s gotten the best of everybody. He’s had last series [Patrick] Beverley, Kawhi [Leonard], Paul George. He’s getting Danny Green, [Kentavious] Caldwell-Pope, Rondo, [Alex] Caruso and now LeBron. That’s the ultimate sign of respect.
“Again, I thought late he had a couple really aggressive drives to the basket. I’ll have to look at the film. I thought there was contact. Wasn’t called. That happens. But I think in those situations, also have to understand he’s attracting so much pressure and a crowd, he has to look to make a play for somebody else and get off of it. I know he’s able to do that because he’s shown that he can.”