With the San Antonio Spurs in the middle of a FIGASENI, this was one of the few times this week that they would not be at a rest disadvantage, as they took on a Denver Nuggets team that is not only missing two starters in Michael Porter, Jr. and Jamal Murray (among others), but they are also on the sixth game of a seven-game road trip AND coming off an overtime victory in New Orleans from the night before.
As a result, the Spurs had a chance to take advantage and start a new winning streak, and they did just that. While it wasn’t easy — Denver still has reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, and Aaron Gordon had himself a game — the Spurs led wire-to-wire and had a response every time the Nuggets threatened to take the lead.
It all started with the Spurs continuing their trend of starting strong by hitting 8 of their first 12 shots to get out to a 22-12 lead that they would never relinquish. The Nuggets were able to take advantage in the fast break with some long outlet passes to keep things close, but the Spurs kept attacking. They got nine extra points off seven offensive rebounds in the first quarter alone and led 37-29 to start the second.
The Spurs kept piling it with a 17-5 run that spanned across the first and second quarters. Devin Vassell returned from injury and exploded onto the scene on both ends of the court (literally), and the Spurs soon found themselves up 60-42 midway through the quarter. However, the Nuggets finally started getting some threes to fall while the Spurs had one of their cold spells, cutting the lead to four on a 16-4 run. Mike Malone then broke out the Hack-a-Poeltl on Jakob Poeltl, and he missed both free throws before quickly being pulled due picking up his 3rd foul. Jokic able to take advantage of his absence for a few easy points, but again, the Spurs responded at the end of the half as a Drew Eubanks three — his first of the season — kicked off quick 5-0 run to get the lead up to 74-65 at the break.
The third quarter was mostly a back-and-forth affair. The Spurs would get the lead just up to double digits, and the Nuggets would respond. Then the Spurs always had an answer when they got close, and so on. Perhaps the Spurs best showing of resilience came late in the quarter, when the Nuggets once again got the lead down just four off back-to-back Spurs turnovers, only for the Spurs to respond with back-to-back threes, including one off a great hustle play by Tre Jones, who skied up to tap the offensive rebound out to Dejounte Murray for a three and end third up 100-90.
Although the Spurs initially failed to take advantage of Jokic being on the bench to start the fourth quarter, letting what was a 13-point lead get down to five on back-to-back threes from JaMychal Green, they continued doing what they had all night: respond. Everyone contributed as they kept attacking a tired Nuggets defense and pulled away for the relatively comfortable 123-111 win.
- Offensive rebounds were a huge factor in this game. Poeltl alone had six of them, and a big reason for that was the Spurs’ ability to either force Jokic to switch on defense, or play help defense on the player driving with the ball, leaving Poeltl unchecked under the basket to grab any misses. Murray and Kieta Bates-Diop also had three apiece, and overall the Spurs scored 20 second-chance points off 14 offensive rebounds.
- Mini-series (or consecutive games against the same team in the same venue) were not kind to the Spurs last season, as they went horrific 4-16 in ten of them. This was the start of one of just two this season (the other at being home against Portland in April), and just by winning this game they’ve already beaten last season’s win percentage on mini-series since the worst they can do now is 1-3. Congrats?
- It was another night of milestones for a couple of Spurs, courtesy of Jordan Howenstine:
Bryn Forbes is now Top 10 in Spurs history in three-pointers made.— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) December 10, 2021
Forbes just passed Chuck Person with his 458th three for San Antonio.
Dejounte Murray just hit 3,000 career points.— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) December 10, 2021
No Spur in history has totaled 3,000 points, 1,500 rebounds and 1,000 assists faster than Murray.
Play of the Game
Eubanks better sleep with one eye open tonight. The Jokic Brothers just might be coming after him after he did their little brother dirty on this posterization.
Spurs Valuable Player (SVP)
3rd place (1 point): Dejounte Murray | 20 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists, 1 steal
This spot was open for the taking for a lot of the game. Bates-Diop filled in admirably for an injured Keldon Johnson, Doug McDermott scored early and often to get the Spurs out ahead, Vassell was a spark off the bench in his return from injury, and Eubanks looked like the backup center the Spurs desperately need with 14 points and 6 rebounds. But Murray did what he always does: post a near triple-double and take over the game late to help the Spurs put the Nuggets away after they got close for the final time, so he gets the nod.
2nd place (2 points): Lonnie Walker | 21 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 3-5 three-pointers
This feels good to write. After a couple of horrible outings in the Spurs last two games — both losses in which he totaled 9 points, on 3-13 shooting, dipping his season average to below double figures — Walker woke back up and tied his season high with 21 efficient points to lead the bench unit. This is a contract year, and so far he hasn’t taken advantage of it, so like always, here’s to hoping this is “the game” that gets him going.
1st place (3 points): Derrick White | 26 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks
The Spurs are a different team when White is himself, and he was again tonight with another great all-around performance. He once again was the Spurs’ leading scorer while hitting 9-14 from the field and was his usual menacing self on defense to lead his team victory against his home state. (This also bumps him up to where many thought he would be on the SVP Leader Board!)
Overall Leader Board
1st - Dejounte Murray - 42pts
2nd- Derrick White - 22pts
3rd - Devin Vassell - 20pts
4th - Keldon Johnson - 15pts
5th - Jakob Poeltl - 14pts
6th - Thaddeus Young - 9pts
7th - Doug McDermott - 7pts
8th - Bryn Forbes, Lonnie Walker - 5pts
9th - Drew Eubanks - 2pts
10th - Jock Landale, Josh Primo & Keita Bates-Diop - 1pt each
Up Next: The Spurs and Nuggets will face off again in San Antonio on Saturday in the second game of this mini-series. Both teams will have equal rest this time, but this will be Denver’s seventh straight road game, so they still stand a good chance to get the home sweep.