The Denver Nuggets went into Tuesday night’s Game 5 with newfound confidence after defeating the San Antonio Spurs in Saturday’s game by a score of 117-103. It wasessentially a must-win game to avoid going down 3-1 in the series.
With the win, Denver took back home-court advantage and headed back to the Pepsi Center for a pivotal Game 5 with the hopes that they could duplicate the success that they had in Game 4.
Denver did just that as they put together arguably their best defensive performance of the entire postseason to win 108-90 and take a 3-2 lead in the series with the chance to clinch in San Antonio on Thursday. With that, I give you the good, great and awesome.
Good – First quarter change
Going into Tuesday night’s game, one of the biggest issues that Denver was having in the playoffs was the way that they were starting out games.
“I think it is important for us to win the first quarter, but not only to match the intensity and their aggressiveness, but exceed it,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said prior to a pivotal Game 5 matchup at home. “We have to come out with a hit-first mentality once again and hopefully that allows us to win the first quarter.”
Denver had not won an opening quarter in the series and that changed on Tuesday as Denver put on a defensive clinic which translated to success on the offensive end as well.
Gary Harris put his stamp in this game in the opening quarter as he raced out to a quick eight points on 3-5 shooting. As great as he started on offense, his defense is what really stood out.
Harris played solid on-ball defense as he limited Derrick White’s touches yet again. He got out and deflected a few passes and also rotated well in help-side defense. He made things as difficult as he could in the opening quarter which ended up becoming a theme for the entire game.
Denver capitalized on the defensive end and came out ready to battle. They gave maximum effort early and often. It was clear early on in the night that this would be a game that the Nuggets would be amped for and ready to dominate from the opening tip.
Denver finally won an opening quarter and they did so authoritatively by a score of 26-19. They came out ultra-aggressive which opened things up for the Nuggets for the rest of the game. After the first quarter, they did not look back as they pushed their lead as high as 30 points.
Great – Defending White
In the Spurs’ two wins in the series, one of the biggest reasons has been the remarkable play of Colorado-born point guard Derrick White. He had been playing sensationally and was looking like an early M.V.P. candidate for the first few games after outplaying Murray on both ends of the court.
White’s defense was incredible, he made plays for others and was a downhill runner that was getting buckets at will.
White finished with 16 points in Game 1, 17 points in Game 2 and announced himself to the big stage in Game 3 when he had his best game of the series as he exploded for a career-high 36 points.
But in Game 4, Malone made some adjustments to the starting lineup as a result and White has not looked like the same since.
Instead of Murray defending White, Malone decided to place Gary Harris on the second-year guard.
“I think to be a good defensive player you have to take pride in it,” Malone said after Game 5. “It is something that you study in your matchups, know their tendencies, but also something that you have to take pride in and say, ‘I am going to win my matchup’.
“Gary on Derrick White obviously was a huge difference from Game 3 to 4.”
Harris again shut White down as the Spurs guard went into the fourth quarter with only three points before Denver took their starters out of the game.
White did however get himself going a bit in the fourth quarter as Gregg Popovich elected to stick with his young point guard to attempt to regain his confidence and he responded by finishing with nine points in the quarter alone to give him 12 points on the night but for most of the game. It was a great defensive effort by Denver yet again as Harris had himself a vintage night as he continues to look more like himself with each minute he spends on the floor.
Awesome – One game away
The Nuggets did not start out the series the way they wanted after dropping Game 1 and that created many doubters. Still, Denver stayed the course, believed in themselves and have fought back to completely flip the script.
With Tuesday’s win, the Nuggets are in a prime position to end this series and advance to the next round.
With a 3-2 lead and homecourt advantage, Denver has made it so they have the opportunity to win the series so long as they win one of the final two games of the series.
San Antonio is a place that has not been kind to Denver for the last decade, but if Game 4 showed anything, it is that the Nuggets can indeed win in at the AT&T Center.
San Antonio will come out pumped and determined to fight and push the series to a Game 7 where anything can happen.
Denver will have to dig deep if they plan on pulling out yet another victory in a hostile environment with the season on the line or what Jokic referred to as to as, “The toughest game of our lives.”