In what will probably go down as the upset of the entire NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs shocked the #1 seed in the West the Denver Nuggets by a score of 128-120 on an electric Friday night at the AT&T Center to start their six-game homestand.
In what looked like it would be a routine victory on paper, the Nuggets came into the Spurs building with a slight bit of arrogance and ended up getting punk’d by a young San Antonio side that was ready to fight (literally and figuratively).
It did look like it would be an easy win for the road side early on as they got off to a faster start - jumping out to a double-digit lead within the first six minutes. The reigning back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic was running the show with the other Nuggets getting great looks off his passes. The Spurs however were struggling to find holes in the Denver defense and were settling for tough jumpers. The home team did return fire with a run of their own that included two and-1’s from Tre Jones and Keldon Johnson respectively. With the Silver & Black trying to stop the playmaking of Jokic they were allowing the Joker room on the perimeter and the Center was making them pay with two made triples in the first 12 minutes. Denver had an early 38-26 advantage after one.
It was one of the few veterans the Spurs have on their roster that was playing some inspired basketball to pull San Antonio back into the ballgame, as Doug McDermott was moving great off the ball and attacking the rim off the catch. The home team was just starting to gain some momentum when Jokic returned from the bench and the tide of the game swung right back into Denver’s favor. The soon to be three-time MVP was orchestrating everything on offense but it was the other end of the court where he was having real problems. The Spurs all night weren’t afraid to attack the Serbian in the paint and had lots of success doing so. With the quarter winding down Keldon and McDermott caught fire from three to end the half with the Spurs in front; 68-67.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” must have been the mentality of the Spurs players coming out of the half because they continued to attack Jokic in the paint for easy layups. San Antonio were pushing the ball down the throats of the Nuggets every time they got a Denver miss. With the road team having a hard time getting back in transition to stop the younger, more energetic Spurs. Just when the Spurs had all the momentum a scuffle broke out between Zach Collins and Michael Porter Jr - a scuffle which resulted in both players getting ejected. This took the air out of the building due to the long delay for the video replay and the resulting ejections, this helped the Nuggets crawl back into the game. But once again the Silver & Black responded with a run of their own, with Tre and Keita Bates-Diop taking on the scoring load and increasing the Spurs advantage to five heading into the fourth; 98-93.
In many close fourth quarters this year the Spurs had looked anxious and unsure of what to do, but against the Nuggets they started the final period on fire. They were playing without any hesitancy and looked like they were full of confidence as their lead grew to ten. As expected by a team that is #1 in their conference, the Nuggets responded with a physical brand of basketball with the road team entering the bonus in the first four minutes of the quarter. Then came the Mamu show (not Manu, Mamu). Sandro Mamukelashvili the Spurs newest signing of less than a week ago, was put into the game for the first time on the night to start the fourth with Coach Pop needing Center minutes after the Collins ejection. Mamu took full advantage of his opportunity playing with pace and confidence and showing off his passing and shooting skill. But once again the road team responded with two triples and a dunk to bring the deficit back down to two with three minutes to play. This is the point where a young team would fold to the more veteran, experienced side but not tonight, the Spurs responded with a 10-0 run to win the game which included more outstanding Mamu plays as well as Jeremy Sochan, Devin Vasell, Tre and Keldon chipping in on both ends to close the door on Denver to take what will go down as their best victory of the season; 128-120.
- MAMUUUUUUUU! Sandro didn’t play at all in the first 36 minutes but ended up playing the entire fourth and had 11 points on 4/5 shooting with two triples, 4 rebounds and 2 assists including huge plays late on both ends of the floor. Mamu probably wouldn’t have got into the ballgame if Collins hadn’t been ejected, but what a turn of good fortune that may end up being for his career. He just made himself a hero in San Antonio with those 12 minutes of exceptional play that resembled one, Manu Ginobili.
- Fully Healthy Spurs = Pretty Good? The Spurs haven’t had their full roster available for much of the season, especially in the past few months, so it is hard to gauge exactly how good this team is when they have their full arsenal at their disposal. They still wouldn’t be a playoff team, and maybe not even a play-in team, but would they be an OKC Thunder or a Utah Jazz? Possibly. It’s probably good that they aren’t, and because they have been banged up all year it means they will likely end up with a 14% chance at . . . well you know who.
- Record Breakers. The Nuggets entered the game 25-0 when Nikola Jokic had a triple-double, they leave the game 25-1. A cherry on top for the Spurs on a great night in this developmental season.
Play of the night
1 on 1 with the MVP . . . dagger.
Next game: vs. Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday
The Spurs continue their homestand on Sunday and will hope the momentum of this upset win carries over in their matchup against the OKC Thunder.