After the Denver Nuggets quickly closed what seemed to be a comfortable Spurs lead halfway through the fourth quarter, San Antonio pushed their winning streak to three games, via the stellar efforts of LaMarcus Aldridge (22 points and 9 rebounds), DeMar DeRozan (24 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists) and Derrick White (11 points, 9 assists). Denver, behind hot shooting late from Nikola Jokic (22 points and 10 rebounds) and Jamal Murray (25 points and 8 assists), started their three game road trip with their 13th straight loss in San Antonio going back to 2012.
- Nuggets commentator Scott Hastings proclaimed “I’ve been saying this for two years but no one listens. When they shoot well, they defend well. When they don’t shoot well, they hang their heads on defense.” DeMar DeRozan took advantage of botched Denver pick-and-rolls for two steals that he converted into layups and added another drive for six points. Hastings added that Jokic ‘missed a lot of layups the last few games’ right after he missed one in traffic. The Spurs rode torrid 71% shooting while holding Denver to 33% at the other end to a 23-13 lead. Rudy Gay asserted himself in the latter end of the first quarter, playing a Manu-esque facilitator role for the second unit and helped San Antonio extend out to a 36-17 lead after one.
- Nuggets reserves Isaiah Thomas and Malik Beasley contributed nine points off the bench at the start of the second period on a variety of drives and pull-up jumpers to get Denver to a more respectable spot. The Nuggets made a concerted effort to be more active at the rim, after starting 1-10 from 3-point land, but the Spurs countered with feeds from Derrick White to Aldridge on back-to-back possessions to extend the lead to 48-32. Veteran referee Scott Wall seemingly swallowed his whistle in a sequence midway through the quarter that may have cost San Antonio four free throw opportunities and one Denver charge. The two teams exchanged baskets on better halfcourt execution and the Spurs headed into the half with a comfortable 58-48 advantage.
- Denver, behind the duo of Jokic and Jamal Murray, got whatever they wanted in the paint and behind the three point line at the start of the third quarter. To this point, they had worked over ten pick and rolls with moderate success in the first half. Scott Wall then repaid some of his debt to the Spurs with a questionable charge call on Jokic. The Nuggets play-by-play announcer declared the Spurs to be the top free throw shooting team in the league - right as they missed one. The Spur reserves, behind timely shooting and nifty playmaking by DeRozan and Gay, went on a 18-5 run to push their lead to 85-69. Gay, in particular, asserted himself with two baskets and two assists to keep the Nuggets at a distance.
- White figured prominently for the Spurs in the fourth quarter. In an exciting two-way effort, he blocked Thomas’ drive under the basket to force a shot clock violation. Shortly after, the Spurs ran a Beautiful Game-era sequence to free up Derrick for a wide open three pointer to push the lead out to 16. As his patented turnaround jumper fell softly through the net, Hastings sighed “LaMarcus Aldridge does what he does.” White later stymied a Murray/Jokic pick and roll - taking a charge, and then ended a Harris fastbreak emphatically with a block at the rim that would have made Danny Green proud.
- Murray hit four 3 pointers, and his teammates added a barrage of their own, in order to piece together a 29-13 run to bring them perilously close to the Spurs in the final minute. On a contested loose ball between Gay and Paul Millsap, NBA replay officials awarded the ball to the Nuggets. After a Murray miss, Millsap and Gay again contested the rebound with the ball kicked out by Rudy. On the ensuing inbounds, Jokic found himself stuck on the baseline and Aldridge knocked his pass to Gay for free throws. Gay missed both of them giving Denver one last shot at a win. On the final possession, Jokic went to Harris for a fadeaway - reminiscent of the Vince Carter game winner against San Antonio in Game 3 of the 2014 playoffs. Thankfully, Harris’ shot rimmed out. SPURS WIN.
- ‘Floppy’ Watch - The Spurs ran my favorite play only once with Poeltl as the fulcrum, which resulted in the ball being knocked out of bounds.
- The Nuggets employ in their rotation a handful of rangy, explosive scoring wings that defend the perimeter athletically in Will Barton, Malik Beasley, Monte Morris, Gary Harris, and Torrey Craig. Watching them fly up and down the court may provide us a blueprint for what San Antonio’s young players could look like in future iterations with White, Dejounte Murray, and Lonnie Walker IV.
- In Paul Millsap’s first game as a Nugget against the Spurs, he went scoreless throughout most of the first half until a score on the above uncalled charge over Aldridge. Millsap and Aldridge came into the league as part of the 2006 draft class. Where does the time go?
- The Spurs and Nuggets are prominent members of the NBA Highest Scoring Games Club - owning the top two positions - Denver overcame the Detroit Pistons 186-184 (3 OT) in 1983 and San Antonio bested Milwaukee 171-166 (3 OT) in 1982. The teams have also participated head-to-head in three of the 15 highest scoring games (Nuggets 163-155 in 1984, Spurs 157-154 in 1984, and Spurs 161-153 in 1990). Chicago and Atlanta became the number three entrant into that exclusive club last Friday in their 168-161 four overtime affair won by the Bulls.
Playoff Seeding Watch
If you are still awake enough to look in on our playoff competitors, the ninth-seeded Sacramento Kings (31-31) entertain the New York Knicks at 10:00 PM CDT, while the tenth-seeded Los Angeles Lakers (30-33) host the 7 seed Los Angeles Clippers (36-29) on NBA TV at 10:30 PM CDT.
The Spurs head to Atlanta for a road game Wednesday night at 6:30 PM CDT with Trae Young and the Hawks before being gifted three full days off.