Spurs furious fourth quarter dooms Denver in Game 6

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) looks to pass against San Antonio Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (right) in game six of the first round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center
Apr 25, 2019; San Antonio, TX, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) looks to pass against San Antonio Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (right) in game six of the first round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

It took 10 long years, but the Denver Nuggets entered their Game 6 battle with the San Antonio Spurs with an opportunity to finally win a playoff series, but they had to overcome the Spurs on their home floor first.

Defeating Gregg Popovich and the Spurs in San Antonio to eliminate the Spurs from the postseason was always going to be an incredibly difficult task for the incredibly young Nuggets, but they came out with the intention of ending the season. Denver was not scared as they took punches from the Spurs and answered back with plenty of their own.

Unfortunately, the Nuggets did not have enough left in the tank. After flying around and battling for three quarters, Denver lost control of the game in the three minutes that Jokic sat between the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth. When Jokic left the game, Denver was within three points. When he retuned, Denver trailed by 15.

That was Denver’s death sentence as they fell apart in the fourth quarter and lost 120-103 setting up a winner-take-all Game 7 in Denver.

The Nuggets were amped up to begin the game which manifested itself in missed layups at the rim and most of the team rushing shots early in the shot clock. It was clear that Denver was putting a ton of pressure on themselves to close out the Spurs in Game 6 and it led to them playing far too tight.

Thankfully, the Nuggets had their battle-tested $30 million man in Paul Millsap, who continually found ways to score in the first quarter while the rest of the roster struggled. By the time the first quarter ended, Millsap was 5-of-6 from the field and had 10 first-quarter points while the rest of the roster was 5-of-18 and had 14 total points.

A notable difference for the Spurs was that DeMar DeRozan — who has been a pure isolation scorer in the first five games of the series — was showing off the improved playmaking that was such a revelation for him during the regular season. After just 10 minutes, DeRozan was already up to five assists.

Denver’s first 12 minutes did not go the way they wanted. They let the Spurs score 18 points in the paint and were unable to convert their strong looks on offense which led to a 34-24 deficit after the first quarter came to a conclusion.

Then, just as he has all series long, Torrey Craig appeared when the Nuggets needed him most.

In the first 36 seconds of the second quarter, Craig drilled Denver’s first 3-pointer of the game before grabbing a steal on a Patty Mills post-entry pass and throwing a hit-ahead pass to Monte Morris who finished the play with a layup. That 5-0 run in 36 seconds to start the second quarter led to Gregg Popovich calling a very quick timeout out of frustration.

That was the spark Denver needed as they began slowly but surely climbing back into the game. After trailing by 10 points at the end of the first quarter, Denver utilized their improved defensive play and, finally, some shot making to not only erase San Antonio’s lead, but to take one of their own. Still, after winning the second quarter 36-30, Denver went into halftime down by four points after letting DeRozan get his own rebound on a missed free throw and making the layup before the buzzer. That led to Denver trailing at halftime by a score of 64-60.

At the forefront of Denver’s furious comeback was none other than Nikola Jokic, who continued to attack the Spurs despite his early shooting struggles. Simply stated, Jokic was dealing in San Antonio in the first half. He flirted with a first-half triple-double and eventually finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists despite Denver, and Jokic himself, missing tons of open shots that they usually make.

Unfortunately, the start of the third quarter brought more injury concerns for Murray, who took quite the shot from Jakob Poeltl on a vicious moving screen. Murray fell to the floor in a heap and struggled to shake off the injury. He somehow stayed in the game, but it was clear that he was dealing with some significant pain.

As Murray tried to work his way back from Poeltl’s cheap moving screen, the Nuggets continued to trade punches with the Spurs; particularly DeRozan and Jokic. DeRozan did what he does best by getting downhill and scoring in the paint, but on the other end of the floor, there was nothing that the Spurs could do to slow Jokic, who was completely unstoppable.

As offense began to rule the game, it became increasingly apparent that the first team to string together a few stops was going to be the team that finds a way to win. By the time the third quarter came to an end, neither team was able to do so. Eventually, the Spurs carried a five-point lead into the fourth and final frame by a score of 90-85.

For the final minute of the third quarter and heading into the fourth quarter, Denver had Jokic on the bench were outscored 12-2 which put them down 13 points. Denver’s starters, who had carried almost all of the scoring load, had a massive hole to dig themselves out of.

It became very clear very early that Denver was not up for the task as they were blitzed by the Spurs in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter by virtue of a 17-2 run. That run by the Spurs effectively killed Denver’s chances of willing as they eventually fell 120-103 in San Antonio.

By the time the final buzzer sounded, Jokic led the Nuggets with a franchise-record 43 points in a single playoff game to go with 12 rebounds, and nine assists. Murray followed that up with 16 points of his own, but shot just 7-of-18 from the field. Denver unfortunately did not get much production from their bench as the Nuggets starters outscored the reserves 90-13.

Next, the Nuggets will head back to Denver to take on the Spurs in a winner-take-all Game 7 on Saturday night in downtown Denver.

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