The Nuggets have forfeited home court advantage and for the time being the doubters stand on solid ground. How did Denver’s performance in game one compare with your expectations?
Brendan Vogt: The process didn’t shock me. The brief, initial nerves were to be expected and we haven’t seen them hit open shots consistently for a long time now. The result, however, was a little surprising. We’ve seen that late push from Denver so many times, especially here in Pepsi Center where they’ve come out on top more often than not. They came up just short this time. It isn’t shocking but I thought they’d get game one.
Evan Fiala: The team looked a little more composed than I was expecting. The effort and intensity were there, especially on the defensive end, and that is something we’ve been begging to see for a full four quarters for some time now. The problem was finishing the execution on offense. All things considered, they played well enough to win a playoff game. Nothing to be ashamed of in that.
Ryan Blackburn: I remember thinking about this game last night and having a strange sense of calm. At some point, we knew the Nuggets would have to deal with adversity, and it’s happening sooner than we hoped. The shooters were clearly nervous, and the young players outside of Jokic showed some timidity throughout the game. That will either have to change soon, or the Nuggets don’t deserve to move on. It’s simple as that.
Gordon Gross: I expected a hard-fought game but for Denver to come out on top in Game 1. But the execution difference was vast between the teams, just edging out Denver’s other advantages. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic both had their struggles in the final minute of a big game. Pop did what I expected with a masterful time out and ATO strategy that prevented the Nuggets from ever going on a serious run. It came down to a few plays, and the Spurs simply hit their hard shots while the Nuggets missed their easier ones. Good thing it’s a best of seven.
Losing game one at home is brutal, but there’s plenty of basketball to be played. Does this loss change your prediction for the series?
Vogt: I was fairly confident they’d take the first two at home. The shot making should come around, to some extent at least, and the Nuggets do seem the far more talented team in this series. I think it goes 7 now, but I’m sticking with Denver.
Fiala: No. I predicted it would predict Denver in 7, and I think that still holds true. The Nuggets played well in Game 1, but the Spurs played just a little bit better. This series will be decided by a summation of all the little things that make or break a team’s way and in Game 1 they broke towards the Spurs by a hair. As long as the Nuggets hit more of their shots they will be just fine.
Blackburn: Well, I’d say Nuggets in 5 is a prediction that’s on the fritz. I’d push it back a game, but I expect Denver to recover their composure pretty quickly and win in six games. For that, they will need to win in San Antonio twice, but I think they can do it.
Gross: I’m on record as saying I thought the Nuggets would take it in six. Now it looks like it might take all seven. Still picking the Nuggets - last night was a game they should have won, and if they win the rest of the games they should win it’ll be all right. They can’t have the same execution failures in the important moments, though. I expect these games to be close, and the margin for error will remain small down the stretch.
Denver’s inability to knock down open shots has plagued them all season long. How confident are you in that changing in the playoffs?
Vogt: They won’t shoot it as poorly as they did in game one. We hope. But unfortunately we don’t have a lot of evidence to suggest they’ll became a high octane offense again anytime soon. It’s been too long since their best players looked in top form in the same game. The ceiling is still so high for this team but there’s a good chance they never get there.
Fiala: It’s a tall ask to hope for a team to flip a switch like that. Sample size and experience have shown us this year that maybe, just maybe, the Nuggets aren’t as good of a shooting team (yet) as we expected. But they still won 54 games this year. They don’t need to shoot 45% from deep to win, they just need to shoot better than 21%.
Blackburn: There’s not a lot of precedent for Nuggets games in the second half of the season in which the team shot the ball much better than they did last night. Murray, Harris, Barton, and Millsap were the main culprits, but Jokic, Morris, and Beasley need to hit their outside shots as well. All seven of those guys have to collectively shoot the ball at above a 35% clip if Denver wants to guarantee a win. The Nuggets were 31-10 when they hit 35% of their looks, and that will be good enough to defeat the Spurs in nearly any situation this series.
Gross: Denver has had a problem this year where all their shooters try to shoot themselves out of slumps. That’s okay when it’s one guy, but when it’s several it just leads to a brick-fest. San Antonio does not have a shot blocker and is not an intimidating foul presence either. When shots aren’t falling I would love for Denver to blitz the rim and see what happens. Malik Beasley did it once last night and it was nice to see. If Denver’s shots don’t fall and they’re willing to stay outside and brick them, it’ll be a hard series to survive and advance. Sometimes simply seeing the ball go in the basket is therapeutic - both for the players and the fans. More of that in Game 2 please.