Despite the Denver Nuggets failing to play anywhere near their best basketball, they still managed to escape the first two games of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs with a 1-1 split with the San Antonio Spurs and were just one jump shot by Jamal Murray away from carrying a 2-0 lead into San Antonio.
On Thursday night, the Nuggets packed up and headed to San Antonio looking for redemption in Game 3. It has been eight years since the Nuggets have been able to win a game within the walls of the AT&T Center, but Denver was hell-bent on ending that 13-game losing streak.
By the time the game had ended, the Nuggets failed to put their demons in San Antonio to rest as they fell 118-108 in Game 3. The Nuggets have now lost 14-straight games in San Antonio and will be heading into Game 4 in a must-win situation.
The first quarter did not begin how Denver had hoped. After playing strong defense for the most part in the first two games of the series, the Nuggets allowed the Spurs to get whatever look they wanted in the first five minutes. Bryn Forbes was hitting 3-pointers, LaMarcus Aldridge was hitting his mid-range jump shots, Derrick White was getting to the rim, and Jakob Poeltl was a beast on the offensive glass.
To make matters worse, Denver’s offense was operating at a glacial pace. Every shot that Denver was able to make took an unbelievable amount of effort which is why Denver ended up only scoring 22 points in the first 12 minutes of the game despite shooting 47.4% from the field and 37.5% from three-point range.
As the first quarter came to an end, the Nuggets had gotten blitzed and trailed 31-22. Denver allowed five offensive rebounds, missed three of their four free throws, and were out-shot from everywhere on the floor by the Spurs.
Thankfully, Denver jumped out to a 5-0 run to begin the second quarter which led to Popovich taking a timeout after just 33 seconds. Popovich’s timeout prowess has been an underrated advantage for San Antonio, but during Game 3, the Spurs did not enjoy the same boost. Denver came out of the timeout and pushed their run to 16-straight points and suddenly found themselves up 38-31 as Malik Beasley and Torrey Craig injected Denver with a shot of adrenaline.
Denver’s three-point shooting was their catalyst in the first half as the managed to hit 8-of-16 triples in the first two quarters. Unfortunately, while Denver was hitting 3-pointers, White continued to eviscerate the Nuggets. By the time the second quarter ended, White had 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting and was a +17 in 18 minutes.
Denver’s three-point shooting allowed them to score 58 points in the first half, but White’s dominance led San Antonio to 61-58 lead after 24 minutes.
The third quarter is when great teams usually put away their opponents, but for the Nuggets, things are never that easy. After an abomination of a start to the third period where Barton and Murray struggled mightily, Denver finally managed to get some traction and began to slowly but surely break down their deficit as Beasley and Monte Morris filled in admirably.
Jokic, who the Spurs have had no answers for, began to to attack repeatedly. Harris was driving into the paint and getting to the free throw line. Denver’s defense bounced back in a big way and began to string together stops. That combination allowed Denver to head into the fourth quarter with just a four-point deficit staring them down.
The Nuggets battled in the fourth, but the consistency of the Spurs was just too much to overcome as the Spurs slowly buried the Nuggets in Game 3. San Antonio outscored Denver 118-108 in the final period as the Nuggets fell apart down the stretch.
Once the final buzzer had sounded, it was Jokic who led the Nuggets with 22 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. Unfortunately, Murray struggled badly and finished with six points on 2-of-6 shooting to go with two assists against four turnovers. Barton also struggled badly as he was only able to contribute four points on 2-of-6 shooting and he also had three turnovers to add to his rough night. For the Spurs, White finished with 36 points on 15-21 shooting as he led the Spurs to their huge Game 3 victory.
Next, the Nuggets will have one day off before taking on the Spurs in San Antonio once again. They will tip off at 3pm MDT on Saturday afternoon looking to avoid going down 3-1 to the Spurs.