The Denver Nuggets did not start their first playoff series in six years with the results that they wanted as they fell 96-101 to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinal series. Despite the loss, there was no panic from Denver. They did not play anywhere near their best and the game still came down to the final shot.
It was Jamal Murray who missed Denver’s final shot — a wide-open, mid-range, pull-up jumper with seconds remaining on the clock — to cap off a rough 8-for-24 shooting night. After the game, Murray went up to the Nuggets practice court and got shots up for another hour. It was clear he wanted to bounce back in a major way.
In Game 2, Murray looked to redeem himself and, despite three forgettable quarters, Murray did just that as he finished with 24 points after scoring 21 points in just the fourth quarter as he put in his bid to be crowed ‘King of the Fourth’.
Murray’s late-game heroics helped the Nuggets even up the series as Denver won 114-105 and stole back a bit of momentum.
With the Nuggets tying up the series at 1-1 with their win, I give you the good, bad and ugly.
Good – Jamal Murray Comes Alive
Murray did not have too good of a performance in Game 1. He finished with 17 points on 8-24 shooting and, as a result, went straight to the practice court after the game to get shots up with his father to try and make a few adjustments before the Nuggets’ next game.
His extra shooting did not show up early on, but surely did by the end of the night. He was Denver’s late-game hero.
After being held to an awful 0-of-8 from the field in the three quarters for only three points head coach Michael Malone pulled his point guard to the side and spoke to him about believing in himself.
Still, despite Murray’s obvious struggles, Malone stuck with the 22-year-old and said that he had no intentions of taking him out of the game.
“I had to stay with Jamal, make or miss,” Malone said. “He came through in a big way, but never once did I think about pulling him.”
That choice proved to be the best decision of the night as Murray came alive in the fourth quarter. He hit eight shots in a row which ended up leading the Nuggets to victory.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) April 17, 2019
Murray went for 21 points in the fourth quarter going 8-of-9 from the field and he got the crowd back into the game. He was dealing and hitting seemingly every single shot he put up to not only bring Denver back, but build and extend a lead to secure the victory.
When Murray is in that type of zone there are not too many things a team can do to slow him down and it is when the Nuggets are truly at their best.
Bad – Rough start puts Denver in a hole
Once again, Denver did not a good start and that has been a prevalent theme throughout the entire year.
On the defensive end, the Spurs were able to slow things down and take away the rhythm and pace that the Nuggets said that they were going to attempt to come out.
THIS. POSSESSION. pic.twitter.com/jibZbzuPCl
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) April 17, 2019
The Spurs were in no rush and whenever Denver would go on a run, San Antonio’s coach Gregg Popovich would call a timeout to try to destroy any ideas of any comeback.
Defense is really where the Spurs shined in the first half. San Antonio went in with the mindset to limit Jokic with double teams and slowing him by giving him different looks. The Spurs also got solid defense from Derrick White yet again. White was a huge reason why Murray struggled early on. The Spurs forced Denver to take tough shots and play to their pace early on and the Nuggets went into the half with a sizable hole as a result.
Denver trailed by five points at the end of the first quarter and, despite a back and forth second quarter, Denver went into halftime with a 10-point deficit.
Denver has to find a way to come out with a bit more fire so they can start games with more intensity.
Ugly – Barton and the crowd
One of the most obvious negatives in the game was the play of Will Barton, who had himself one of his worst games of 2019.
The issue has not been his production as much as it is the fact that he has not found his shot yet, but keeps shooting.
Barton scored 15 points and also recorded 10 rebounds in Game 1 to show that he is still impacting the game, but he was also only 6-15 from the field.
In Game 2 things got worse.
Barton managed to only score three points by going an abysmal 1-10 shooting from the field, including 0-6 from beyond the arc. He was 1-4 from the free throw line as well and was out of sync for most of the night. He even heard some boos from the Pepsi Center home crowd before being replaced by Malik Beasley in the third quarter. He did not return for the rest of the night.
After the game, Malone and Jokic defended their second-longest tenured player.
“Our fans have been great the whole year, but I really felt bad when they started booing Will Barton,” said Malone before standing up for his small forward. “I understand the emotions of a game, and again, our fans have been awesome this whole year, but support our guys. When they are going through a tough time they could use some love.”
Jokic also supported his teammate in saying that he did not appreciate the boos that came from the home crowd.
“He has done a lot of things for this organization,” Jokic said. “He was injured and his finding his rhythm. When he comes back he’s going to be the old ‘Thrill’.”
Denver will need Barton to bounce back in a major way if they plan on advancing. Luckily for Denver, depth has been one of their strengths all season long. There are others who can step up and helped the Nuggets fight back and win the game.
But none have the talent that Barton has. Maybe his Game 2 struggles are just the wake-up call that he needed to get back on the right track.