After blowing out the San Antonio Spurs in Denver on Saturday night, the Denver Nuggets knew they would face a renewed effort when facing the Spurs again tonight. This time, in San Antonio.

It was certainly a battle, but in the end, the Nuggets came out victorious, defeating the Spurs 115-109 in a game defined by clutch play from Denver’s stars. Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray ran a clinic in clutch basketball on offense, reminding every Nuggets fans just how much Murray was missed for the last year and a half. On defense, Aaron Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Bruce Brown set the tone, making life difficult for the Spurs and forcing some questionable shots. Or, they simply didn’t allow a shot at all.

Jokić led all scorers with 26 points, adding in 10 assists. Murray finished with 19 points and 6 assists himself. Michael Porter Jr., though he didn’t close the game, finished with 24 points on 9-of-16 from the field and 4-of-8 from three. All three played major roles in Denver’s success tonight and played their parts to perfection.

The Nuggets won a close one to improve to 7-3 on the season. They’ve won three in a row, kicking off their current four-game road trip with a hard-fought victory that could help set the tone for the rest of this week.

Here are my three primary takeaways from the Nuggets matchup with the Spurs in San Antonio:

Nuggets stars close it out with clutch play

The Nuggets got their first big test for the Jokić-Murray duo in the clutch tonight. Both had played reasonably well before returning for fourth quarter minutes, but after seven full quarters of seeing them in action, the Spurs were well positioned to make things difficult for them.

The Nuggets stars laughed at that notion, running some elite actions down the stretch. Murray handled the ball, ran the give-and-go dance with Jokić, and created some great looks for them both. Jokić isolated against Jakob Poeltl on the right elbow and hit a contested jumper. Murray leveraged both his and Jokić’s gravity before firing a laser to Aaron Gordon underneath the basket for the game-sealing shot. It was awesome.

Jokić finished the game with 26 points, 10 assists, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, and 3 blocks and was a +15 in a six-point win. Though he missed some easy-ish shots around the basket, he was incredible otherwise. Murray had 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists, shooting 9-of-17 from the field. He was at +10 in the plus-minus department.

KCP hit a clutch three. Aaron Gordon had a clutch block on Keldon Johnson. Bruce Brown had a clutch steal. Lots to like tonight from Denver’s defensive trio surrounding the two stars.

Michael Porter Jr. is raising his game

Though he didn’t get the nod to close the game, Michael Porter Jr. was indispensable tonight. His floor spacing makes the entire world go round for both the starters and the bench. He scored 24 points in 31 minutes tonight and shot 50% from three-point range AGAIN (4-of-8). He also had some nice fast break buckets, rebounds, and the occasional defensive play.

MPJ wasn’t too stressed about closing though. The broadcast caught MPJ celebrating his teammates’ success in the clutch, even though he wasn’t out there when he definitely could have been.

Given Porter’s role in helping prop up the bench unit, this could be a relatively common occurrence as the season wears on. Porter will have games where he hits shots to keep Denver in it, but the right call to push Denver across the finish line could be Bruce Brown in his place. Brown played great defense tonight and had a key pass to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for three. With Murray and Jokić there to drive offense, the defensive personnel around them might be more important than Porter’s scoring.

Still, there’s no doubt how essential Porter was to that victory. He was awesome.

The fast break is Denver’s friend

On the night, the Nuggets had 18 fast break points. That’s about what they’re averaging on the season, and it ranks top five among all NBA teams. What really separated them tonight on that front was the third quarter. 14 of those 18 fast break points came in the third quarter alone. The Nuggets only won that quarter 29-27, but that was because the Spurs blitzed the Nuggets coming out of halftime.

When the Nuggets lock in defensively, they generate turnovers, missed shots, and plenty of fast break opportunities on the other end. The break got them back in the game tonight, with Jokić firing hit-ahead passes and Nuggets wings running the lanes for easy shots at the rim. It was an absolute clinic out there right when the Nuggets needed it to be.

Hopefully, the Nuggets can find that extra gear more consistently as the season wears on.

Final Rotations