On Military Appreciation Night, the San Antonio Spurs defeated the Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets 128-120 behind what Bill Land described as a ‘fanatical effort’ in a high-scoring affair that entertained a grateful throng of service people. A late 10-0 run by the hosts gave the squad the necessary space to salt away its most impressive win of the season.
The Spurs leveraged a 50-33 rebounding advantage and hotter shooting (54% to 49%) to secure the win. The high-quality cleanly-contested game was marred briefly by an altercation between Zach Collins and Michael Porter, Jr. midway through the third period that resulted in their ejections.
Nikola Jokic displayed his MVP dominance in the opening frame as he wrung up a dozen points and set up his hot-shooting teammates and put San Antonio in an immediate double-digit deficit in a 38-26 first.
Any questions about the home team’s competitiveness were answered by Keldon Johnson and Doug McDermott’s and the Spurs’ 42-point detonation in the second period, despite Jokic’s continued dominance all around the court and Jamal Murray waking from a first half slumber. San Antonio earned a one-point lead at the half.
The Spurs extended their lead to as much as eight in the third before the above altercation and ejections occurred. Denver used the stoppage to mount a 7-0 run while the teams re-settled into a rhythm. McDermott’s fourth three and San Antonio’s continued attack of the Nuggets’ soft middle gave it a 98-93 lead after three.
Denver’s potential 3-time MVP candidate Jokic poured in 37 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists, and found support from his running mate Jamal Murray (24 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals).
A Spurs squad finally approaching full strength had Keldon Johnson (23 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists) and Jeremy Sochan (19 points and 8 rebounds) lead the way in the enthralling triumph. San Antonio was bolstered by Doug McDermott’s 20 points and 5 rebounds and Sandro Mamukelashvili’s 11 points and 4 rebounds off the bench.
- The purple and white raspa hair colors on Sochan are just everything that’s good in this life.
- A Nuggets / Kings conference finals would be the matchup that... Michael Malone fans would absolutely die for.
- Better stylishly cool player name: Sandro Mamukelashvili or Nikoloz Tskitishvili (both hastily copy-pasted from search engine)?
- Jokic’s scratched and scarred arms make it look like he’s made it through the Kumite in Bloodsport.
- Sequence of the Game: After McDermott stole the ball from Jokic late in the third frame, Keita Bates-Diop willed home a tough transition bucket over several Nuggets to keep San Antonio ahead.
- Clinching Sequence of the Game: Late in the fourth quarter, Johnson took a Murray miss, pushed it ahead to Jones who found a streaking Sochan for an and-1 to make it 126-116.
- Jeremy’s Journey: The middle of the paint is Sochan’s spot to own on offense. He backed his defender partway through the fourth to convert a turnaround jumper.
- It feels like Jeff Green should have been a Spurs at some point in the last decade plus.
- Super-sub and Head of Basketball Operations with the G League Malik Rose needs his jersey up in the AT&T rafters. During Rose’s visit with the broadcasting crew, he shared: “I’ve been lucky man. My entire career - being in the right place in the right time.” (recapping how he got to working with the league), “We were the video game crew.” (on Malik and his teammates’ Starcraft-playing tendencies), “It was a traumatic experience... knowing that my teammates felt that way (i.e., upset about his departure) and they called me every day. They helped me get through it.” (on his trade to the Knicks in the ‘04-05 season that brought Nazr Mohammed over).
- Upset from their drubbing by the Bulls, the Nuggets stormed out to a 11-2 lead with equal parts transition and paint success. San Antonio managed to look both smaller and slower than the Denver squad. Sochan slithered his way to three buckets in response. After a McDermott dunk, Jokic threw a 80 foot bomb/assist to a streaking Kentavius Caldwell-Pope 1.5 seconds later. Consecutive and-1’s by Tre Jones and Johnson shaved the deficit to six, and San Antonio was fortunate to be down only a dozen after one.
- As the Spurs found their offfensive footing in the second (scoring 12 in four minutes), they continued to bleed paint points at the other end. An encouraging corner three by Vassell closed San Antonio briefly within six. As part of an 11-3 run, Johnson paired a big-bodied and-1 and a transition lay-in around a Charles Bassey floater to trim the Nuggets lead to one. Murray answered with his six straight points of his own, while McDermott countered with two buckets. Johnson’s corner three gave the Spurs their first lead, but Jokic again found a teammate (Murray) with a 80 foot bomb/assist to close out the scoring.
- At the start of the third, Jokic and Zach Collins traded points over the first moments. Malaki Branham hit a running floater and Vassell’s pull-up from beyond the arc stunned the Nuggets, and a Sochan tip made it 85-77. After a dunk and unnecessary taunting by Porter, Jr., Collins got a running start and chest-bumped him, while Porter, Jr. grabbed Collins neck in response. After their ejections, the teams endured minutes of sloppy execution and fruitless possessions. Sochan fouled Aaron Gordon hard, as well, before Gordon’s three brought Denver within one. McDermott’s fourth straight three was answered by a Jokic three. The teams resumed their flurry of bucket getting and the Spurs left the quarter up 98-93.
- MAMU HAPPENED: A Bates-Diop wing three and a Mamukelashvili runner and freebie opened the fourth and supplied San Antonio its biggest lead of 11. Jokic re-entered the game with 8:10 to go with Denver down nine and they immediately mounted a 7-2 run. Mamukelashvili found a cutting Vassell for an acrobatic layup, knocked down a three, and converted an errant Sochan lay-up to push the Spurs out to 115-106. Mamukelashvili found an open Johnson for a three. Back-to-back threes by Caldwell-Pope and Murray brought the Nuggets within four. After a Spurs’ shot-clock violation, Denver coughed up the ball at the other end, and Tre Jones dribbled the ball off of his foot. Jones atoned for the turnover with a floater. A Mamukelashvili three provided San Antonio a seven point cushion. Two Murray misses allowed San Antonio to nab a Sochan and-1 and a Vassell lefty lay-up at the other end. SPURS WIN!
For the Nuggets fan’s perspective, please visit Denver Stiffs.
San Antonio takes on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday night at 6:00 PM CDT.