The San Antonio Spurs won their tenth game in a row against the Denver Nuggets, picking up a lead in the second quarter and finishing strong to remain undefeated in seventeen games this season at home.
Nikola Jokic took a game-high 19 field goal attempts, and finished with 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists, continuing his strong play of late off the bench for Michael Malone.
The Nuggets started the game well, trading free throws and baskets with the Spurs as they took a 14-12 lead. That caused Gregg Popovich to call a full timeout, where he brought in some bench players and they sparked an 8-0 run. Patty Mills got open twice on the perimeter and made the Nuggets pay. Nikola Jokic came in the game and started rebounding everything, helping the Nuggets claw back to end the quarter down by two points, 22-20.
The bench mobs took over in the second quarter, but the Spurs out-Serbian'd the Nuggets, with Boban Marjanovic the giant overpowering Nikola Jokic. Jokic isn't a small human being, but Marjanovic looks like the character Jaws from the James Bond films had a love child with a polar bear. Boban drew three quick fouls on Darrell Arthur, who didn't stand a chance against him in the post, and swatted a shot during a Spurs game. Tony Parker decided to take the Nuggets point guards to church, school, the woodshed, town, wherever he wanted. He was stealing passes, knocking down midrange jumpers, and just playing excellent basketball in the Spurs system. That stretch of champion basketball helped power a run that gave the Spurs a 56-42 lead at the half. Plus/minus is a stat with a few weaknesses, but is was telling to see that Faried (-18 in 18 minutes) and Lauvergne (-16 in 16 minutes) are at a serious disadvantage against LaMarcus Aldridge and David West.
The Nuggets attempted five free throws and five 3-point attempts in the half, with the Spurs allowing the Nuggets to run pick and roll, but keeping them out of the paint. The Nuggets made just one 3-pointer, and it came from King Joffrey. The Nuggets are getting shots in the paint when they run plays, but the shots aren't falling for them tonight. The Spurs made their shots in the paint, and had seven offensive rebounds to help pad their lead.
The Spurs came out of the locker room with cruel intentions, bearing down on defense and stretching their lead to 22 points after a LaMarcus Aldridge jumper. Will Barton and Nikola Jokic teamed up to help close the gap for the Nuggets, getting the score to 76-65 at the end of the third quarter. Barton had a nice slam dunk off of a pass from Jokic on a cut to the rim, with the Serbian rookie showing off his passing touch, threading the ball over Barton's defender.
The Spurs and Nuggets reserves played out the fourth quarter. San Antonio only had an 11 point lead to start the quarter, but Boris Diaw put an end to that tomfoolery with nine points in the first minutes of the quarter on three possessions. The Spurs and Nuggets traded some Serbian-on-Serbian violence with Boban and Jokic doing battle, with the Nuggets forward stretching the floor while Boban demoralized the Nuggets with his physicality. Barton had a nice jam after Jokic threaded a pass over the defense after a cut into the paint, but the Spurs defense did enough to keep the Nuggets at bay.
The Nuggets showed hustle throughout the game, and their defense was good for a majority of the game. The Spurs took advantage of a series of mistakes, played matchups, and made good decisions. They're a dynasty for a reason, and the standard for the rest of the league. The Nuggets would like an actual win, but there were positives to draw from this game.
Nikola Jokic for ROTY. The Nuggets already have a 6MOTY candidate in Will Barton, who had 16 points off the bench and leads the league in points off the bench, but they should also have a Rookie of the Year contender in Jokic. Kenneth Faried had a beautiful -24 in 24 minutes, and the argument for playing Faried with the second unit is beginning to make more sense. If the season goes downhill for the Nuggets, Malone ought to consider playing Jokic and Nurkic together in the frontcourt in the starting lineup, with Lauvergne and Faried coming off the bench at the four and five with the second unit. Jokic is putting up 17 and 10 per 36, and his play has been one of the bright spots as of late.
Malone's system can work. The Nuggets started the game with a strong defensive effort, but they don't have the personnel to be great on that end for 48 minutes. You have to respect Kostas Papanikolaou for trying, but let's not pretend here. The fact that Malone's system is able to work for bursts now speaks volumes, in my opinion. I have visions of wiry defenders on the wing, quick guards patrolling on the perimeter, and stout bigs in the paint guarding the rim in the future. There's a method to the madness, and it's just a matter of time. I hate waiting.
I miss Emmanuel Mudiay. Jameer Nelson is valiant in his efforts to be the next man up, but I want to see Emmanuel Mudiay play. Mudiay has the tools to be a great defender for his position, has the vision to help elevate his teammates' performance on offense, and represents a brighter future for the Nuggets. This season has had plenty of peaks and valleys, and it's nice to watch Barton and Jokic play well. Call me greedy, but I want to see Emmanuel Mudiay out there driving to the rim, throwing ridiculous passes to open shooters on the perimeter, and swiping passes to create transition opportunities. I watched 30 minutes of Mudiay highlights today, and my heart pined for the young point guard to return. Let's get Mudiay back on the court, Nuggets trainers, KTHXBYE.