Nuggets defeat Spurs in Game 7, advance to Western Conference Semifinals

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) during the first half against the San Antonio Spurs in game seven of the first round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at the Pepsi Center.
Apr 27, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) during the first half against the San Antonio Spurs in game seven of the first round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets season was on the line Saturday night and they rose to the occasion with a 90-86 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.

With the win, Denver moves on to the Western Conference Semifinals for the first time since 2009. The Nuggets will start their semifinal series against the Portland Trail Blazers at home on Monday.

It was going to take a complete 48 minutes if Denver wanted to pull off a Game 7 victory and the Nuggets played like a team that knew what was at stake. Behind an extremely loud Pepsi Center crowd, the Nuggets opened the game on a 10-2 run as they held that same advantage with 7:04 left in the opening quarter.

The remainder of the first quarter was highlighted by poor shooting from both teams, but mostly from San Antonio. After opening the game just 2-of-18 shooting from the field, the Spurs closed the quarter with a 20 percent field goal percentage. Because of that, the Nuggets were able to take a 23-13 lead into the second quarter as they were looking to solve their own offensive problems.

Through one quarter, the Nuggets shot just 8-of-23 from the field, but they still held a double-digit lead in large part to their defensive effort. Denver was playing with really solid energy on that end of the floor, which was picking up the slack for their slow start offensively. Denver finally got an offensive rhythm going as they started the second quarter on a 6-3 run to take a 13-point lead with just under 10 minutes left in the half.

Denver would maintain that lead for most of the second quarter, until a pair of free-throws by San Antonio made it a 9-point game with 4:27 left in the half. The game was getting to a point where both teams were still struggling to score and officiating compounded the issue with a number of foul calls. Even as both teams were getting to the free-throw line, neither was finding a way to score from the field.

As bad as both offenses were in the first half, Denver’s was a little better as they led 47-34 through two quarters of play. At the break, the Nuggets were led by Nikola Jokic, who was well on his way to another monster game as he scored 15 first half points to go along with nine rebounds and two assists. No other Nuggets players was in double-figures at the break, but Denver did have eight other players score at least a point as they were doing most of their damage on the other end of the court.

Denver and San Antonio were certainly looking to improve their offensive production in the second half, which is what both teams did as they opened the third quarter on fire. The tides had turned in half number two as neither team could miss to start the period, which played into Denver’s hand considering they held a double-digit lead. As each team was exchanged blows, the Nuggets finally blew the doors open courtesy of a Gary Harris three-pointer to give themselves a 62-45 lead with 6:38 remaining in the third quarter.

From that point of the quarter on, the Spurs outscored Denver 16-11 as the Nuggets took a 72-61 lead into the final 12 minutes of play. San Antonio was not going away as Denver was going to have to put together an efficient final 12 minutes of play to win the game. The Nuggets did not start the fourth quarter well though as San Antonio opened the period strong and cut Denver’s lead to 8-points just a few minutes in.

The Nuggets held that same 8-point lead over five minutes of play as San Antonio continued to fight back possession after possession. With 5:05 left in the game, Denver’s lead was suddenly down to 82-76 as the Spurs were finally starting to make their shots. San Antonio had Denver’s lead all the way down to four until the Nuggets went on a mini-run to regain an 8-point advantage with just under three minutes remaining.

After a Spurs three-pointer out of a timeout, the Nuggets held possession of the ball for almost a minute — courtesy of some offensive rebounds — but still could not find a way to score. DeMar DeRozan ended up making one free-throw on the Spurs next possession as the Nuggets lead was down to four points with 1:16 left in regulation.

San Antonio would force a turnover on Denver’s next trip down the floor, which led to an easy dunk, and made it a 2-point game with 52 seconds remaining. The Nuggets were able to get a big shot by Jamal Murray, then a monster block by Torrey Craig, until they ultimately dribbled out the clock to pick up a 90-86 victory.

Stat leaders for Denver were Jokic, who came up big with 21 points, 15 rebounds, and 10 assists on 9-of-26 shooting from the field. Murray also had a tremendous game for Denver as he finished with 23 points on 9-of-19 shooting from the field, while also dishing out four assists. Harris was the only other Nuggets player that finished in double-figures, but his 11 points were huge in Denver picking up the victory.

The Nuggets will be back in action on Monday night when they open their next series at home against the Portland Trial Blazers. That game will start at 8:30 pm MDT and will be televised nationally on TNT.

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