The San Antonio Spurs fell to the Denver Nuggets in an absolute blowout, 101-126, losing a third consecutive matchup while slipping to a 5-5 record.Although the youngsters made several valiant attempts to trim the deficit, Mike Malone and his revamped roster overwhelmed them with seamless ball movement and white-hot shooting.
Keldon Johnson paced the Silver and Black with 25 points and four three-pointers, as Devin Vassell added 20 points and four assists off the bench.Nikola Jokic led Denver with 21 points and ten assists, closely followed by 24 points and seven assists in a breakout performance from second-year combo guard Bones Hyland.
- Gorgui Dieng was the first big off the bench for head coach Gregg Popovich as Zach Collins sat this matchup out with a lower left leg contusion. The veteran center immediately made his presence felt with an above-the-break three-pointer as the Spurs found a hole in the zone defense. He also tacked on a steal and an assist before three turnovers sent him to the sidelines for the remainder of the first half. Without alternative options like Dominick Barlow or Charles Bassey, San Antonio had to rely upon Dieng to give Jakob Poeltl an occasional breather.
- No matter how far the Spurs fall behind, they always fight back and make things competitive. Despite trailing by as many as 23 points at the midway point of the second quarter, San Antonio put together a 10-0 run that helped them stay within striking distance heading into halftime. Young teams are notorious for hanging their heads and waving the white flag on off nights. However, these whippersnappers have demonstrated resilience regardless of the score. You would expect nothing less from a Gregg Popovich-coached team, and their admirable efforts have made their losses worth watching.
- The Nuggets entered the night as the most accurate team in the NBA from beyond the arc (41.6%), and they immediately showed their long-range acumen with five threes on their way to 40 points in the opening frame. Denver also ranked third in passes per game (315.5), which wasn’t all that surprising considering how smoothly they swung the ball around the hardwood in search of the best shot possible. Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. commanded a bunch of attention from San Antonio’s defense, but they used their scoring gravity to create open looks. Though that trio hasn’t suited up for many minutes together over the last couple of seasons because of a slew of injuries, they look capable of making a serious playoff push.
- Devin Vassell notched a career-high 29 points in an almost perfect shooting performance in his return from a four-game absence less than 24 hours ago, and he probably would have scored more if not for a minutes restriction. The 22-year-old swingman continued his hot streak in Denver, picking up where he left off against the Clips. He nailed catch-and-shoot threes, glided into midrange jumpers off dribble handoffs, and attacked the rim in transition. Tonight marks the fifth consecutive contest with at least 20 points, so it might be time to enter his name into the most improved player of the year discussion.
- Nikola Jokic is a basketball magician. The two-time reigning MVP manipulates defenses with his eyes, delivers passes from all sorts of impossible angles, and dominates the interior with a methodical post-game predicated on immaculate footwork. While most of his superstar peers can soar above the rim, let it fly from the logo, or handle the ball like a marionette, Jokic creates a unique highlight reel from mere inches off the ground. The Silver and Black were his latest victims as he left their heads spinning on his way to 21 points, six rebounds, and ten assists in 27 minutes.
- Jakob Poeltl only managed four points in 26 minutes in what was arguably his worst outing of the young season against the Clippers on Friday, but he bounced back with eight points in the first quarter as Denver failed to contain him in the pick-and-roll. He sneaked in a handful of putbacks when the Nuggets forgot to box him out, but he looked turned around at times when their perimeter players forced him to switch out onto the perimeter. The seasoned rim protector finished with 14 points and eight rebounds, and while that is fine by his standards, he is capable of better nights.
- Tre Jones can’t seem to catch a break from the field as of late. After averaging 16.3 points on 53.1% shooting in his first three games, the third-year point guard has seen those numbers plummet to 11.2 and 31.8% in his last six appearances. A meeting with Jamal Murray and a porous Denver defense looked like a perfect opportunity for Tre to get back on track. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Jones had a season-low 4 points and shot 2-of-7. He also had seven assists in a tick over 27 minutes, but the Silver and Black will need more than a steady playmaking hand from their starting floor general if they are to snap their losing streak sometime soon.
- Keldon Johnson has been a flamethrower from beyond the arc to start the season. After tonight, the fourth-year forward is an eye-popping 33-of-78 (42.3%) on three-pointers. Leave him open, and he’ll knock down a triple. Put a hand in his face, and there’s still a great chance he adds three points to the scoreboard. Want a fun statistic to track? Danny Green holds San Antonio’s franchise record for most threes in a single season (191). This much slimmer version of the Big Body is on pace to break that record before the All-Star Break, specifically at the AT&T Center against the Houston Rockets on February 4. Should he remain on this trajectory and play in every game left on the schedule, he would make 297 threes, which would be the most in NBA history by anyone not named Steph Curry or James Harden.
For the Nuggets fans’ perspective, please visit Denver Stiffs.
The San Antonio Spurs have the rest of the weekend off before returning to the AT&T Center for a rematch with the Denver Nuggets on Monday.