The San Antonio Spurs have the momentum after a game one victory. What did the Spurs accomplish in the first game that should be concerning for Denver Nuggets fans?
Ryan Blackburn: I thought the most important part of San Antonio’s game plan was directly the ball away from Nikola Jokic in scoring situations. The Spurs made a concerted effort to stop Jokic from scoring, and that willingness was highlighted in the shot distribution for Denver’s starters. Normally, all of the starters attempt close to the same number of shots outside of Harris and Millsap, but Murray took 24 shots, Barton took 15 shots, and Jokic had just nine. By turning Jokic into just a passer, the rest of the offense struggled to find opportunities to create for others, racking up just three combined assists.
Zach Mikash: That San Antonio is not going to let Jokic beat them alone. Flat out Mike Singeltary “can’t do it.” The double team was on every single possession and it needs to be for the Spurs to have a chance. Jokic makes Jakob Poetl and LaMarcus Aldridge look silly trying to defend him so they have to force him to give up the ball. Joker generally made the right read on the double team every time as well but he needs his teammates to knock down shots. Until they do that San Antonio has the upper hand.
Gordon Gross: They got the victory and swung home court back their way. How they did it is immaterial, really - Jokic had a triple double and should have been looking to score more, but if the Nuggets had made their ridiculously open threes it would have been a Denver blowout. “Miss all your open shots” is not a defensive strategy, although it seems to be Denver’s modus operandi after the All Star break. If the Spurs don’t lose at home, they win the series now. That’s the most important thing they did and the thing Denver has to overcome. The Nuggets finding their collective scoring touch is vital - forget San Antonio’s strategy for now and make your shots.
Brendan Vogt: They made life difficult for Jokic. Had his teammates hit their shots, we’re looking at a high assist total with a triple-double in a victory. But they didn’t and Jokic wasn’t able to adapt. While he generally made the right decisions, he looked fairly shook with the ball in his hands for durations of that game. Those threes weren’t close. He was definitely a little rattled.
The Nuggets only scored 95 points in game one. Other than shoot better, how can they recover their offensive mojo for the rest of the series?
Blackburn: I think the Nuggets need to identify some sets where Nikola Jokic can get right to the dotted line and receive an entry pass from the top of the key. So many of Jokic’s passes came from the left or right block area, but it’s harder to double the big man right under the rim without giving up an open rhythm jump shot on the perimeter. I like a set where Millsap makes the entry pass at the top of the key to Jokic in the center of the paint while Harris and Barton are spacing the floor in each corner.
Mikash: They have got to push the pace more. You know how many fast break shots Denver made last game? Whether we’re talking transition three pointers, pulls ups or dunks it doesn’t matter, the number is still the same. That’s right, the scored zero fast break points. Zilch, nada, nothing, squat. I get it, the pace slows and the defense tightens in the playoffs, but you can’t play a game with zero points on the break and win. Especially when you’re not making threes and when the opponent’s defense is set they are denying looks in the paint.
Gross: Denver missed that many shots and did not crash the glass. I know offensive rebounds are passé in the modern game, a relic of ancient times... but if you can’t shoot, and you know you can’t shoot, and you are also the bigger team, then maybe crash the glass against a team that does not exactly push the pace themselves and make sure you get that bucket.
Vogt: I hate to be that guy, but I’m tripling down on the shoot better thing. This offense will loosen up and come to life when the shots start falling—if they start falling. A wide open three is an ideal outcome. Just knock them down.
In their first must-win game since Game 82 last season, will the Nuggets recover and earn a victory at home?
Blackburn: I think the Nuggets will make the necessary changes and hit enough shots to win. The defensive game plan was great, and the Nuggets basically held the Spurs under 100 points without the intentional fouling at the end of the game. As long as Denver hits 10 or more threes on a decent percentage, I think Denver can almost repeat the rest of their game plan (with some counters here or there) and come away with a victory.
Mikash: Have to. No other choice. It wouldn’t be the first time a team came back from 0-2 after losing both at home but it would mean winning two of three in San Antonio where the Nuggets haven’t won in forever. Getting one down there is going to be hard enough. I have confidence they win Game 2 though. This team has proven to be resilient all season long, I don’t think that changes now.
Gross: Yes. They should have won the last game, so why would I think they’re not gonna win this game? Denver needs to execute better, and have its best players play better in the close moments, but if they ran that exact game back and made shots they’d be fine. They played hard on defense, they fought to the last minute - I wasn’t unhappy with the performance in game one just the results. Denver was a tight team and they tightened up in that final minute. The pressure to win this game is high, but Denver has had high-pressure wins for the last year-plus and fought back from adversity plenty of times. I expect them to conquer the jitters in Game 2.
Vogt: The first game is out of the way, as is the worst case scenario offensively. This team may never shoot the lights out in the postseason but game one was probably an outlier performance. Denver actually showed that new and improved baseline we saw in the regular season—even the games that don’t go their way are winnable now. I like their chances in game two.