The Denver Nuggets were looking to reclaim home advantage in their series against the San Antonio Spurs by doing something they haven’t done in their previous 13 tries: win in San Antonio. Despite another strong performance from Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets finally being able to hit three pointers and some outstanding play off the bench, Denver’s woes on the wings with starters Jamal Murray and Will Barton were present once again. Meanwhile they let Derrick White and DeMar DeRozan dominate the game throughout and ultimately fell apart at the end which led to their 14th straight loss in the Spurs house. Nuggets now face a must win game four after dropping tonight’s contest 118-108
The game was back and forth out of the gate, the Nuggets once again got a strong effort from Paul Millsap from the Jump. On the Spurs side, Derrick White extremely effective early, Murray flat out couldn’t stay in front of him on drive and wasn’t denying White’s right hand which was clearly the direction he wanted to drive. The teams battled to a 16-16 tie but then the game turned in San Antonio’s favor. They ripped off a 9-0 run behind White and LaMarcus Aldridge. As the quarter came to a close the Nuggets still struggled to find their offense. The bench had a little success but the Spurs were making a concerted effort to get into the paint and when it didn’t translate to easy baskets it usually translated to trips to the free throw line where unlike the Nuggets they were converting. When it was all said and done they had a 15-6 run to close the quarter and led by nine.
The Nuggets found their rhythm coming out of the gate in the second quarter. Malik Beasley picked up where he left off in game two and started knocking down jumpers while Mason Plumlee was putting in work down low. For the first time in the serese the Nuggets bench looked like a much more dominant unit than their Spur counterparts. Torrey Craig brought a ton of energy and was aggressive at the rim, whether it was when he had the ball or when he was knifing in for offensive rebounds. The Spurs meanwhile were ice cold, they didn’t score a point for over three minutes before Jakob Poetl finally got some free throws. The Nuggets went on an extended 28-9 run to reclaim the lead and get it to double digits. The Spurs wouldn’t go away though. White was playing outstanding and exploiting whoever the Nuggets put on him. Behind his play and a sudden return to the Nuggets shooting woes from game 1 the Spurs fought back on an 13-2 run of their own and reclaimed the lead. Denver pushed back with their starters but White was absolutely killing them which led to a back and forth affair as the half was coming to a close. As a natural cherry on top, White stole the ball in the last 30 seconds for a fast break jam and gave San Antonio a 3 point lead going into the break.
The Nuggets opened the second half with a Jokic three and looked to finally be denying White his right hand. Unfortunately DeMar DeRozan heated up and carried the offensive load. Spurs went on a 7-0 run behind his play and coach Michael Malone was forced to call a timeout. It didn’t help much. The Nuggets had Harris on White which was keeping him contained but it simply led to DeRozan going off instead and on the other end their play was sloppy. While the Nuggets starters were getting beat up and down the floor, their bench, and Jokic, were keeping them in the game. Nikola got aggressive and started to assert himself in the paint which translated to six straight points from him. Denver tightened up the lead but the Spurs were still in front in the closing minutes of the quarter. Monte Morris executed the 2 for 1 brilliantly, getting a layup with 30 seconds remaining in the third, but DeRozan and a strong home whistle got him to the line where he went 1-2 but secured his own offensive rebound. He clanked a three at the buzzer but the Nuggets entered the fourth quarter trailing for the third straight time.
The Nuggets kept the pressure on to start the fourth but the whistle was very much in San Antonio’s favor. The Nuggets were getting great play out of Malik Beasley however the Spurs slowly but surely built their lead back up to ten points early in the fourth. Coach Malone called a timeout but it didn’t work as San Antonio continued to build the lead as the Nuggets were becoming visibly frustrated with the officiating. By the time the quarter reached the half way point the Spurs had gone on a 14-2 run and stretched the lead to sixteen. White got his shot going again and the game was quickly getting beyond reach. After a Denver timeout, the Spurs got the ball back, Murray lost White again and that led to an easy shot and a rage timeout by Malone. San Antonio was up by twenty and it was all over but garbage time. Both coaches started checking in the reserves with four minutes to go. Beasley and Craig knocked down some threes to make things look better than they were, but San Antonio wrapped up the game to take the 2-1 series lead with a 118-108 win.
Key matchup: Derrick White vs Jamal Murray
Usually I try to pick a matchup where two guys played well but that’s not the case. Still this was without a doubt the key matchup as Murray was completely unable to do anything to stop White. He likewise reverted back to the form that we’ve seen from him for now 11 of the 12 quarters of the series and was a major minus on the floor. Make no mistake, the Nuggets aren’t winning this series with Murray playing like this. They likewise aren’t winning this series if they can’t stop dribble penetration from guys like White and and DeRozan.
Main thing I noticed: bad officiating, worse free throw shooting
Look, I’m not one to blame the refs and they certainly aren’t the reason the Nuggets lost the game but San Antonio had 32 free throw attempts to the Nuggets 17. Some of that is the Spurs were being more aggressive towards the hoop but some of it just has to be chalked up to a home whistle, which honestly is to be expected in a 1-1 series going into game 3. It seemed like after DeRozan got T’d up in the first half for complaining the way the game was officiated totally changed. Suddenly every time Denver touched San Antonio on a drive it was a foul but any drive by the Nuggets was either a no call or called as a foul on the floor. The Nuggets were also their own worst enemy, shooting just 53% from the line. If you’re not going to get a ton of calls, then you absolutely have to convert the opportunities you do have and Denver flat out didn’t do that tonight, which has been a theme throughout this series.
Closing thought: so here we are again
Going into game 4 of an opening series down 2-1 is a tale of nightmares for Nuggets fans from the 10 year playoff run in the 2000s. Out of those ten years they found themselves in this scenario 7 times. They went 0-7. Going down 3-1 is almost a death sentence in the NBA playoffs (as we all know, the Nuggets lost all seven of those series and only pushed it past game 6 once) so this will be an absolute must win for Denver. The Nuggets have yet to dominate a game but if ever they needed it, it will be game 4. Some adjustments are likely needed and it’s got to the point where it’s time for coach Malone to seriously consider making a change to the starting lineup. The Nuggets can’t afford to dig themselves into a hole for the fourth straight game.