After such a great Game 3 performance, there was always potential for a let-down from the San Antonio Spurs, regardless of their pedigree at home all season. Though they started the night off as though Game 3 had never ended, they once again ceded a double-digit lead for the 4th time in four games and proceeded to limp through the rest of the game, occasionally getting the Nuggets’ lead to under 10 before Denver would hit a 3 and steal the momentum right back.
Heading back to Denver with the series now a best-of-three, the Spurs have some hard questions to ask themselves. Called out by head coach Gregg Popovich for their poor performance, the worst road team in these Western Conference Playoffs must now find a way to win at least 1 more game at Mile High if they hope to participate in May basketball. San Antonio has proven that they are capable of winning in Denver, having won Game 1 in rather exciting fashion and held a 19-point lead in Game 2 before being blindsided by a huge 4th quarter for Jamal Murray.
At this point, we know who both of these teams are, including the players on them and what each team likes to do. Now it will come down to (without sounding cliche) who shows up, who executes better, and who wants it more.
San Antonio Spurs (2-2) @ Denver Nuggets (2-2)
April 23, 2019 | 8:30 PM CT
Watch: NBATV, FSSW | Listen: WOAI
Spurs Injuries: Dejounte Murray (ACL — out)
Nuggets Injuries: None
The Spurs can’t shoot THIS poorly again, can they?
Tom Petrini of Project Spurs posted something very interesting in regards to the Spurs’ shooting after Game 4:
This is what the Spurs did from 4:55 in 1Q until garbage time.— Tom Petrini (@RealTomPetrini) April 21, 2019
Not a single made jumper. HOW???? pic.twitter.com/ql3SGy2m8p
It’s pretty astonishing, really, when you consider that 1) San Antonio was playing at home, and those looks tend to drop within the friendly confines of your home arena, and 2) they were one of the best shooting teams in the league this season from all areas on the court.
San Antonio won or tied just about every single category that generally factors into wins and losses with one notable exception: beyond the arc. The best 3-point shooting team percentage wise was held to just 5 makes on 17 attempts (29%), while the Nuggets shot 15/31 (48%) for the game from beyond the arc.
As CharlieOCharles noted in a recent piece, the Nuggets are doing some things to limit San Antonio’s better shooters and force them to do things that they would rather not do, such as Davis Bertans anytime he puts the ball on the floor driving to the hoop. It will be on Pop to find ways to free these guys up in good positions to launch 3s and for the players to both execute well and find open shooters whenever there’s a defensive breakdown.
A road bounce-back for Derrick White?
After a solid start to the series and a break-out performance in Game 3 where he scored a career-high 36 points and looked to be the breakout performer San Antonio needed to win this series, Derrick White showed that he is still just a 2nd year NBA player and that he is still prone to nights like this. White finished with just 8 points on 3/8 shooting in the Game 4 loss against Denver, looking much more hesitant than he did in Game 3 and giving away 4 of the Spurs’ 9 turnovers.
This sort of stuff is to be expected, with Coach Pop alluding to that in his post-game presser following Game 4:
Gregg Popovich on Derrick White's Game 4 performance: "I think this is a great education for him."#NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/tK3056Hijy— NBA TV (@NBATV) April 21, 2019
Without a relatively big night from White, the Spurs starting line-up was outscored 81-69 by a Denver squad with a revamped starting line-up. Thankfully, White appears to be made of some special stuff. It’s unlikely that he will let one bad game stick in his head.
It will be exciting to see how he responds tonight after a let-down in Game 4
The Spurs probably shouldn’t leave guys as wide-open as they have so far
Through the first few games, the Spurs’ strategy seemed to be to leave certain guys open, often in hopes of double-teaming Nikola Jokic. While they’ve had some success with it, it may be time for a new strategy after Denver shot 25/52 on uncontested field goals in Game 4 as opposed to 15/37 on contested attempts, on the road no less.
Denver was an average 3-point shooting team during the regular season, but it may be smart to at least put a body and get a hand up on some of these guys going forward. Common sense would seem to say that even the worst of shooters are able to get hot every once in awhile from beyond the arc, but the chances of that happening surely must go up significantly when they’re allowed to shoot freely with no pressure on them.
No player highlights this more than Torrey Craig, who was inserted into the Nuggets’ starting line-up and came up with 18 huge points on 6/9 shooting from the field. Of his makes, just ONE was contested. Check out this clip featuring all of his makes from beyond the arc and note either how open he is on these shots OR how late the close-out is:
These are practice shots for the most part, especially #3 and #4. As average as the Nuggets were from beyond the arc this year, I have to think that the Spurs will want to put some more pressure on some of these guys so that they can’t get into a rhythm.
Vegas Line: Nuggets by 5.5
Prediction: Spurs by 4
For the visitor’s perspective, please visit Denver Stiffs.
PtR’s Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.