The Denver Nuggets were unable to keep their undefeated record going in the preseason as they were dealt a loss at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs this afternoon. Despite strong games from Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, Will Barton and Gary Harris the Nuggets struggled to contain the three point line defensively. LaMarcus Aldridge led the way for San Antonio’s starters and several San Antonio bench players had big games to keep the Spurs in front for the majority of the game. The Nuggets would get close mid second half, but sloppy play on offense and defense doomed them late and let San Antonio run away with it.
Aldridge got it going early for San Antonio with a pair of buckets but Jokic’s work on the offensive glass gave Denver extra opportunities which kept the game within a score. Both teams worked through their reliable scorers. The Spurs got looks for Aldridge and Rudy Gay and the Nuggets were finding success with Jokic and Harris. When Harris put in his third bucket at just past the six minute mark it tied the game up at 13 but the Spurs quickly responded with back to back threes to give them their first separation of any note in the game. Denver’s new found commitment to defense seemed to be forgotten early on (a theme that continued throughout the game), and when the benches started checking in around the four minute mark the Spurs had already scored 24 points. Denver closed the quarter with an interesting lineup featuring Emmanuel Mudiay, Barton, Wilson Chandler, Jokic and Mason Plumlee and despite no one covering Bryn Forbes, that unit kept it close to the end of the quarter with Denver trailing the Spurs by just three points.
Kenneth Faried checked in at the start of the second quarter, getting the first crack at the back up power forward minutes. Meanwhile, the Nuggets continued to refuse to defend the three point line and Danny Green buried a three only to be followed by Davis Bertans with another one. The Nuggets came out in the second quarter flat footed overall which let San Antonio push the lead out to nine in the first two minutes on the back of a 10-2 run. Despite having three fouls, Jokic remained in the game and Barton got hot which kept San Antonio from running away from it early but the Spurs still dominated from the three point line. Barton got red hot from three but then cooled off while the rest of the team struggled from the field which meant San Antonio was able to keep their lead right around double digits. Naturally, as the half drew to a close Forbes buried another open 3 on his way to 18 first half points and San Antonio led by 12.
Both teams came out firing to start the second half and trading baskets. Millsap was particularly active for Denver, drawing fouls and getting to the line on offense and playing tenacious D on Aldridge on defense. Just after the 9 minute mark he made another good play on D by poking the ball away from Aldridge which led to a fast break that Chandler finished with an alley oop slam to get Denver within 6. The Nuggets could have got even closer but Green suddenly became LeBron James and had a pair of chase down blocks to wipe away fast break opportunities for Denver. The Spurs led by seven at the five minute mark when Jokic decided to take over and go on a personal 7-0 run to tie it up at 76. The bench got sloppy on defense, letting the Spurs start to hit open 3 pointers again, but Barton and Jokic continued to keep the Nuggets close and they only trailed by a point after three.
Faried finished off a scrambling broken possession with a basket to open the fourth quarter and for the first time in a long time the Nuggets had regained the lead. The Manimal was active on offense, scoring Denver’s first five points, unfortunately it wouldn’t last. CU alumni Derrick White was scoring and setting up his teammates on offense while taking charges on defense which sparked a 10-1 run and got San Antonio back in front by eight. The Nuggets continued to be sloppy and allow the Spurs easy fast break points off of turnovers. By the time the fourth quarter was half over, the Nuggets were trailing by 14. White finished a fastbreak with a slam and then Dejounte Murray immediately got a steal and dunked on Plumlee to put the Spurs up by 18 and that was all she wrote. The reserves finished out garbage time and the Spurs get the win 122-100.
Best match up: Bryn Forbes vs Will Barton
There wasn’t much in the way of defense in this game and Forbes and Barton both took advantage. Each player got rolling in the second quarter and then suddenly couldn’t miss. Obviously Forbes is probably not going to sustain that and Barton has shown in the past he can struggle with consistency but both of these guys showed why they’re not to be taken lightly when they are on the court. When Forbes checked back in in the second half he immediately buried a jumper meanwhile Barton got his first points of the second half off a quick and one opportunity. Each guy was a key part of their teams offense and time and time again could be counted on to get their team a bucket when they need one.
Main thing I noticed: Millsap can be good in so many ways
Millsap did not have a great game shooting and really struggled early on, particularly from beyond the three point line. However, when the Spurs started to stretch out thier lead in the third quarter it was Millsap who kept Denver close. He played great defense one on one against Aldridge and created turnovers to get fast breaks for the Nuggets. On offense, even though he wasn’t shooting well he attacked the basket relentlessly and got to the free throw line consistently. It just goes to show how great of a signing Millsap was, he brings so many different things on and off the court that he’s going to impact the Nuggets in a lot of different ways, not just with his scoring.
Closing thought: Jamal Murray is going to start
Murray was a late scratch to the game with coach Malone opting to give him the day off. In my mind this all but confirms him to be the starter. Jamal has looked good in preseason, and looked his best in the last game he played in against the Los Angeles Lakers. Meanwhile, Jameer Nelson looked the part of a 36 year old point guard tonight and Mudiay looked like the Mudiay who has struggled to be a positive player on the court his whole career. With now just one preseason game to go, you have to anticipate coach going with his regular rotation as a final tune up for the season. If coach wasn’t sure about Jamal being the starter or not he would have used THIS game to get a little more info to help make the decision. The choice to rest Jamal entirely points to coach making up his mind that he’s the starter and wanting to use this game as a chance to figure out whether Nelson or Mudiay will be the backup.