Jamal Murray couldn’t have requested for a greater look.
Down 97-96, Murray had what might’ve been the game-winner at his fingertips. As a substitute, his midrange jumper was off, and the San Antonio Spurs landed the primary punch with Saturday’s 101-96 win in Sport 1.
Sport 2 is Tuesday evening, however the Nuggets gained’t have a straightforward time erasing this one.
They acquired a triple-double out of their franchise star Nikola Jokic, who completed with 10 factors, 14 rebounds and 14 assists. He sliced and cut up the San Antonio protection, however a 6-of-28 evening from the 3-point line undermined Denver’s efforts. Murray completed with 17 factors however missed all six of his 3-point makes an attempt in an off taking pictures evening.
Gary Harris completed with a team-high 20 and got here alive within the fourth quarter, however the Nuggets have been by no means capable of tie it regardless of ample alternatives. Denver should wait no less than a number of extra days for its first postseason win since 2013.
With the offense struggling, Will Barton assumed the position of aggressor within the third quarter. He nailed a 3-pointer after which completed a troublesome driving layup by site visitors to attract the deficit to 62-59. The Nuggets’ 3-point taking pictures woes continued regardless of a trove of fine appears, they usually couldn’t tie it. However earlier than the quarter was over, Jokic took a extra decided method on the offensive finish and Denver entered the fourth down simply 72-68. In whole, they held the Spurs to simply 13 factors and awakened a Pepsi Middle crowd begging to cheer on their workforce.
The Nuggets couldn’t have defended San Antonio’s two stars, DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge significantly better. They mixed for 12-of-36 for 33 factors whereas the Nuggets defenders pressured their appears and made them uncomfortable.
Heading into his first recreation as head coach of a playoff workforce, Nuggets coach Michael Malone wished to set the correct tone following Saturday’s shootaround.
“I had Paul Millsap deal with our workforce this morning after shootaround and he was phenomenal,” Malone stated. “Right here’s a man who has acquired 89 playoff video games below his belt, talked about embracing the second, wanting round, having fun with it, taking pleasure in what we’ve completed this yr, after which going on the market and simply enjoying. This isn’t rocket science. That is nonetheless basketball.”
Regardless of Gregg Popovich’s penchant for changes, Malone was adamant that his offense can be just like the one which ranked seventh within the NBA all through the common season.
“If I attempt to do one thing completely different, coach a distinct manner, I feel our gamers will likely be turned off and tune me out,” Malone stated previous to the sport. “So, it’s going to be extra of the identical. I’m going to method it the identical manner, we’re going to play the identical manner.”
From playoff-tested veterans to first-timers, that was the theme going into Sport 1. Barton stated the Nuggets couldn’t let Popovich’s aura have an effect on their mindset.
“It’s the most important factor,” Barton stated. “You possibly can’t give attention to nothing however our workforce.”
Barton did concede that the Spurs are infamous for exposing errors and making the most of defensive lapses.
“They play the correct manner,” he stated. “They make the correct play, each play. And so they make you pay. We all know we will’t errors.
The primary-quarter defensive slog changed into a barnburner earlier than the second quarter was over. The Spurs’ 34-point second interval paced their 59-51 halftime lead, which was constructed on 54 % taking pictures. The margin would’ve been nearer had the Nuggets not gone chilly from exterior, managing simply 2 for 13 from 3-point vary.
Although Denver’s offense appeared comparatively tight to come back out, 4 starters completed the primary half with no less than 9 factors. The one one who didn’t attain that benchmark was Jokic, who set everybody up as an alternative. Jokic racked up 9 assists and seven rebounds through the Nuggets’ patented dribble handoffs or excessive screen-and-roll actions.
They did a superb job of containing DeRozan and Aldridge, limiting the all-star combo to simply 15 factors within the first half. It was San Antonio’s rhythm from the 3-point line that stored the Nuggets’ protection off kilter.