The Denver Nuggets hosted the San Antonio Spurs for the second-half of TNT’s double-header on Tuesday night. The Spurs were without their stars Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge as they fell to the Nuggets 117-109 in the Pepsi Center.
Denver Nuggets starting point guard, Jamal Murray, was listed as questionable with a vague “chest soreness” coming into the game. Murray was reportedly pulled from shootaround earlier in the day, but he made the start nonetheless.
Murray drew a charge to start the game and drew a foul on a three-point attempt on the ensuing possession. He was the most engaged player for Denver on the offensive end and finished the quarter with 10 points on 3-3 from the field, but he struggled defensively — and he wasn’t alone.
Murray and company struggled to fight through screens and botched their weakside defensive communication on multiple occasions. The result was an ultra-efficient shooting performance from the Spurs. San Antonio shot 66.7 percent from the field in the quarter and 50 percent from deep as the two teams exchanged blows for 12 minutes. When the buzzer rang, the game had already seen three ties and eleven lead changes. The Spurs led 32-30.
The Spurs continued to shoot the lights out in the second quarter. They hit six of their first seven shots and the Nuggets began to fall behind. They trailed by as many as eight by the time the starters had all checked back in. Then Nikola Jokic went to work.
After looking lethargic in the first, Jokic looked determined to make his presence known in the paint as he showed little to no respect for his elder, Pau Gasol. He found a quick bucket down low, then backed Gasol down again for the bucket and the foul, before showing off his range with a three all in just sixty seconds of game time.
Wilson Chandler, who has lacked aggression in games at times this season, looked particularly engaged in the quarter. He played stellar defense, knocked down his open jumpers and energized the crowd with a monster alley-oop off of a feed from Will Barton. He galvanized the Nuggets, who looked as if they were merely going through the motions in the opening quarter.
The Nuggets ratcheted up their defense to close the half. While they couldn’t stop the Spurs from hitting their shots, they were able to create some turnovers. They forced three in the final five minutes and that helped them trim to lead back down to three. The Spurs carried a 61-58 lead into halftime.
The Spurs shot a ridiculous 65 percent from the field in the first 24 minutes. They were led by infamous Nuggets-killer Davis Bertans, who dropped 12 points and hit three of his five three-point attempts. Jokic led the way for Denver with 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
The Nuggets came out firing in the third quarter. Murray knocked down a 25-footer to tie the game just ten seconds into the half, and the Nuggets forced a miss and then a turnover on consecutive defensive possessions before Gary Harris gave them the lead with a converted bucket in the paint. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich immediately called a timeout.
The Spurs whittled away at the lead as they began to target Jokic on the pick-and-roll. Spurs big man Joffrey Lauvergne was the beneficiary of this approach as the frenchman converted on three uncontested looks in the paint, including a tip-in to tie the game with 3:36 remaining, and a dunk to give the Spurs the lead just 12 seconds later.
The Spurs went on a mini-run and pushed their lead to seven, but Denver responded with one of their own to close the quarter. The two teams finished even in the third with 29 points apiece, and the Spurs carried a 90-87 lead into the final quarter.
The fourth quarter featured a tremendous defensive effort from the Nuggets. After struggling to defend the pick-and-roll — particularly Lauvergne— Denver buckled down in the final 12 minutes of regulation. Jokic is not the type of athlete who can defend at a high level for four straight quarters, but he was opportunistic and surgical with his effort on Tuesday night.
The key moment in the fourth came when Patty Mills missed an open three with just over seven minutes remaining and the Spurs trailing 101-100. Deadline acquisition Devin Harris responded with a huge three-pointer of his own to push the lead to four, and Denver never looked back. A game that was once a nail-biter ended in a decisive 117-109 victory for the Nuggets behind Jokic’s 23-point, 13-rebound, and 11-assist triple double.
Following the win the Nuggets improve to 31-26 on the year and 23-7 at home. Denver will head back out on the road for a quick trip to Milwaukee, where they will take on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks on Thursday night.