For the first two quarters of play, the San Antonio Spurs played mostly uninspired basketball, appearing to be content with splitting the home-to-home with the Denver Nuggets. The Spurs found themselves down 14 at the half, and a blowout loss on the road seemed inevitable. Then, in a surprising twist that would have made M. Night Shyamalan proud, the Spurs came out after the half full of grit and energy. It must have surprised the Nuggets as well, as their offense was stifled by the Spurs’ suffocating defense.
Unfortunately, the ferocious comeback fell short due to poor officiating, a flurry of missed free throws by the Spurs, and an ATO play so obvious that my intramural basketball coach would have seen it coming. The end result was a disappointing 101-98 loss to the Nuggets. I’m glad to see that this version of the Spurs have a no give-up attitude, but a blowout loss might have been less painful.
The Nuggets dominated the Spurs on the glass in the first quarter. In fact, the Nuggets had more offensive rebounds (seven) than the Spurs had total rebounds (six), and the Spurs were out-rebounded 16-6 in the quarter. The offensive rebounds resulted in seven more FG attempts for the Nuggets, which is not a recipe for success on the road against the top team in the West looking for payback. The Spurs shot a respectable 48% from the field and 50% from three, but the rebound discrepancy resulted in the Spurs being down eight after the first quarter. The Spurs were more competitive on the boards the rest of the game, but still ended up losing the rebound battle 53-38.
Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic went a combined 5 for 24 on Wednesday. We knew that was going to change, and those two combined for 34 points on only 24 shots in the first half. The Spurs number one ranked defense over the past three weeks gave up 61 points in the half, which probably could have been worse had the Nuggets not been sloppy with the ball and turned it over eight times. The Spurs found themselves down 61-47 at half. Aldridge played pretty well, scoring 13 points on 11 shots, but that was the only bright spot in a shaky first half.
Personally, I thought the first half had already put the game out of reach. Sure, a 14 point deficit with 24 minutes to play is not insurmountable, but the Spurs have been a terrible road team and the third quarter has been their worst quarter this season. The Nuggets’ stars were doing what they do, and the role players were contributing in ways you’d expect from the home team. Luckily for fans of competitive basketball, but not for my blood pressure, the Spurs had different plans. The Spurs started playing the type of defense we’ve become accustomed to as of late, forcing multiple turnovers on defense, resulting in a dunk party on the offensive end. The Spurs ended up outscoring the Nuggets 28-17 in the third quarter, and the Nuggets’ 14 point halftime lead was cut to just three. Below are a few of those dunks.
WELCOME HOME DERRICK WHITE pic.twitter.com/bIuB9NAZmy— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 29, 2018
Everyone's hurting the rim tonight #GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/jOXcq0Hwgd— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 29, 2018
Come for the @DeMar_DeRozan slam, stay for the @BrynjForbes reaction pic.twitter.com/2lCzTXpN5m— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 29, 2018
The fourth quarter was frustrating. The Spurs seemed to be down anywhere between one to five points the entire quarter. Any time the Spurs had a chance to get over the hump, the refs would make a bad call, the Spurs would miss a shot or turn the ball over, or the Spurs would miss a free throw. Both Jokic and Torrey Craig fouled out late in this one, but the Spurs were unable to take advantage. I would have liked the Spurs chances in overtime, but it was not meant to be.
Somehow, this game managed to feel simultaneously like a game the Spurs should have lost and won. The Spurs have no time to lick their wounds, as they fly to Los Angeles to play the Clippers tomorrow night.
Notes from the game
- Derrick White was the main catalyst in the Spurs’ strong second half. This was easily his most complete game of the season, finishing with ten points, six rebounds, three assists, and six steals. White looked like the best parts of Kyle Anderson tonight. He also has sneaky athleticism, which he displayed during two impressive dunks in the third quarter. He did miss an open three and a free throw late in the game, but the Spurs wouldn’t have been in a position to win the game had it not been for him. Jokic is going to have nightmares of White creeping up from behind him tonight. Below is a quick homage to White’s career night in steals.
.@Dwhite921 set a new career-high with 6️⃣ steals tonight in front of his hometown crowd.#GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/EL6bFp4Ov2— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 29, 2018
- White’s ability to stay in front of the player he’s guarding is fun to watch. He has excellent lateral movement and instincts. A prime example of this is shown below, and it makes me salivate thinking about what him and Murray might be able to accomplish next season.
Lock down defense. @Dwhite921 | #GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/X5X1uK2WPE— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 29, 2018
- The Spurs showed tonight that nothing in life is free. The Spurs came into the night as the top free throw shooting team in the NBA, yet they went 11-20 overall, including 4-8 in the final two minutes of the game. I started having flashbacks to game six of the 2012-2013 NBA finals. Tonight’s not going to be a good night.
- The Spurs played a good portion of the fourth quarter with both Jakob Poeltl and Aldridge in the lineup. This was clearly an attempt to keep Mason Plumlee and Jokic off the offensive glass. While I felt that the Nuggets were still getting to the glass, the Spurs did have a +45 net rating in the eight minutes these two shared the court. Prior to this game, these two had a -10 net rating in 64 minutes, but this will be something to look out for now that Pau Gasol is set to return to the lineup.
- Speaking of Gasol, he was active for the first time in 26 games, but ended up being a healthy scratch. This likely had more to do with this being the first game of a back-to-back than anything else, and I expect Gasol to see some minutes tomorrow night versus the Los Angeles Clippers.
- Aldridge had a strong night overall, but I did not like the way he approached the third quarter. Aldridge continued chucking ill-advised, contested jumpers while his teammates were catching fire. I get that he is the focal point of the offense, but he needs to do a better job of recognizing which players on the floor are hot. He went 3-8 for the quarter, but two of those makes were of the layup/dunk variety.
- Gay’s outside shot looks broken right now. Hopefully it’s just a slump, but something looks off. Beyond that, and more concerning to me, is Gay missed several boxouts and defensive rotations throughout this one. Better days are ahead.
- Patty Mills’ shooting struggles continued tonight. As a result, Mills was not in the lineup down the stretch, which is a rarity.
- Jokic doesn’t look much like a basketball player, but his incredible skillset was on full display tonight. He put Poeltl in the spin cycle on several occasions.
- I don’t think Bryn Forbes is a very good defender, but he does a decent job of getting his hands into passing lanes, deflecting passes and getting the occasional steal. Though typically this steal occurs because opponents are passing it to a player who has lost Forbes.
- Speaking of deflecting passes, the Spurs were all over the place tonight, forcing 21 Nuggets turnovers. The Spurs ended up getting 16 points on those 21 turnovers, which really helped them crawl back into the game.
- If somebody could please explain to me what constitutes a shooting foul this season it would be much appreciated. For the life of me I can’t seem to figure it out. There were two fouls early in the third quarter, one against DeMar DeRozan and one against Murray, that both seemed like shooting fouls to me. Both resulted in a side out possession.