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Spurs drop thriller to Nuggets despite Jones’ career-high 20 points

Turnovers continue to hurt the young squad on their way to a fourth straight loss

NBA: Denver Nuggets at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs faced the Denver Nuggets for the second time in three days on a busy night of NBA action. In an interesting move to encourage voter participation, the NBA announced that all 30 teams would be playing Monday night and then take the day off on Tuesday to allow fans to vote. This lead to a later than normal tip, at 8:30 pm Central Time.

In the first quarter, the Spurs made it pretty clear that they appreciated the extra day off and maybe a little bit of some home cooking. After two games playing off the bench, Devin Vassell rejoined the starting lineup and provided an immediate injection of energy. Keldon Johnson also looked more spry, erupting for 12 first quarter points on 71% shooting, including several And-1s that displayed his finishing ability around the rim. Denver (and league) MVP Nikola Jokic continued to prove a difficult cover, and the Spurs sent some early double-teams his way which seemed to slow him down on a few plays and he struggled to find his rhythm in the first half. Michael Porter Jr. continued his hot shooting streak from the prior game, shooting 75% from the floor and scoring 8 points to lead Denver early, but the Spurs’ strong play led to a 28-28 tie as the quarter drew to a close.

Spurs fans also got to see some early game minutes from new two-way signee Charles Bassey, fresh off a very strong G-League diptych where he averaged 19 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. He provided solid minutes on Jokic, staying in front of the big man and moving his feet well. Bassey also challenged Porter Jr. at the rim for a great late 1st Quarter block.

The Spurs kicked off the second frame with strong inside play, as Jason Richardson, Doug McDermott and Bassey all drove hard to the hoop and drew fouls (or, in the case of McDermott’s layup, a goaltending call on Porter instead). A pretty Tre Jones to Jakob Poeltl pick and roll kicked off some hot play by the young point guard. He seems to be flying just under the radar a bit this season, but multiple slick passes demonstrated his evolution as a playmaker in his third year in the league. Richardson (13 first-half pts) and McDermott (9 points) provided solid scoring from the bench and helped build a five point lead, which felt much larger in a very close see-saw half. Reminiscent of their turnover struggles in the Mile High City just 48 hours earlier, Spurs players not named Jones played a little too careless with the ball and turned it over six times in the second. And just like the prior game, Denver capitalized on most mistakes, heading to the halftime break leading 65 to 62.

Tre continued his solid play to open the third, finishing a sweet And-1 spin move down low on Porter Jr. However, the Denver wing responded by immediately draining a three-pointer to wipe out the effort. Not to be outdone, Keldon Johnson reeled off eight straight points, including two makes from beyond, pushing the Spurs lead to five again and forcing a quick Nugget timeout. Unfortunately, Denver came out of the break with a ton of energy and forced multiple turnovers that led to several quick baskets in transition. After a Spurs timeout, Denver continued to push the pace and cause deflections, opening up a nine point advantage — their largest lead of the game to that point. Pop went to his bench, bringing in McDermott and Richardson for a spark, but the Spurs turnovers continued and the Nuggets formed a layup line to the basket, wrapping the third 94 - 89 despite a last-minute push and one really amazing block by Bassey late on Porter Jr.

If the Spurs wanted to win the game, they were going to need to control their turnovers (Spoiler Alert: They didn’t). The first five or so minutes, the Spurs coughed the ball up three additional times and stagnated on offense, but a suddenly scattered-looking Denver second unit was unable to take advantage. Buckets by Jones and Vassell led to a Nuggets timeout as the Spurs narrowed the gap to three. Stellar play from Johnson and Jones led to a Spurs lead with six minutes to go in the game, but a physical basket from Jokic followed by a steal on the next possession threatened to kill the momentum. However, a great double-block on Jokic on Poeltl and Vassell lead to a Denver turnover off a jump ball and a Keldon bucket.

For the next few minutes, the lead ricocheted back and forth, but in the final minutes, Jokic missed several relatively easy shots and appeared to be getting fatigued by the physical play from the Silver and Black. The Spurs seemed to have their opening to steal one from one of the top playoff contenders in the West. Then, their old friend — the turnover — reared its ugly head once again. After a Jokic jumper, Richardson tried to force a dribble through traffic and coughed it up, leading to a Gordon dunk on the other end, and Denver was able to close it out as time expired. The Spurs lost 115 to 109, and also lost their winning record, moving to 5-6 on the season.

All in all, while it was ultimately a Spurs loss, this was a fun game. Noah said it best:

Game Notes

  • Twenty-four Spurs turnovers. Let’s just get this one over with first: Johnson and Richardson each had six. Poeltl, Vassell and Jones were credited with three a piece (although this viewer saw a Keldon Johnson carry get credited to Jones on the stats board even though he was standing still without the ball in the fourth period, so we will give Jones the asterisk there). Regardless, the Spurs are going to have to fix the turnovers to win games. This is going to be a common refrain this season thanks to all the rookies and young talent.
  • The play of Charles Bassey. It’s hard to draw too many conclusions from one game early in the season, but he’s flashing signs of being a very intriguing prospect. He played physical, yeoman ball on his way to 3 points, 8 rebounds, a steal and a block in 15 minutes. Philly may regret cutting him.
  • Tre Jones. TRE. MOTHERFRACKING. JONES. I feel like this guys is very underappreciated this season. Coming into this game, he was averaging 12.0 PPG, 5.7 APG, and 1.3 SPG. Tonight, he finished with 20 points (a new career high) to go with 9 assists and 3 steals while shooting 69% from the floor and making only 3-asterisk turnovers — really only 2 — and displaying some very solid decision making throughout. For all the (rightful) talk of Johnson and Vassell taking leaps forward this season, I wonder if we’ll look back on 2022-23 as being the year Jones arrives in the league.
  • Solid bench play. Josh Richardson scored 22 points on 73% shooting, McDermott dropped nine, including a few big baskets in the third quarter, and we already mentioned Bassey’s stellar effort in only his second Spurs game.

Play of the Game

Poeltl gets honorable mention with an amazing block on Murray in the third quarter, but in the end, let’s go with this steal by Jones leading to a dagger three by Johnson and a Denver timeout as the Spurs threated to pull away in the Third: