Six of the nine Denver rotation players logged their first postseason minutes ever on Saturday, and for all the talk of inexperience were largely able to hold their own. Nikola Jokic posted a triple-double and Gary Harris led all scorers with 20 points - but none of that matters. There are no pats on the back in the playoffs.
Tonight, it’s execute and close the game or risk falling behind even further. It’s that simple.
Who: San Antonio Spurs at Denver Nuggets
Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO
When: 7:00 PM MT
How to watch: Altitude/NBA TV
Rival blog: Pounding the Rock
Injury Report: Michael Porter Jr - out (back); Dejounte Murray - out (knee)
Three Questions for Tonight’s Game
How will the Nuggets respond? For the first time this season, the Nuggets find themselves in a precarious situation: an actual must-win game. Denver has played in several important games this year but none have come even close this magnitude. The Nuggets have already conceded home court advantage; a second loss would be a near-impossible hole to climb out from. Will the Nuggets feel the pressure and come out tense, or play relaxed and within themselves? The answer could make or break the series.
Will the Nuggets take smarter shots? Look, the Nuggets have not shot the ball well in quite some time and Saturday’s game was no exception. Often though they aren’t really helping themselves. Denver took open shots but there were probably five or six too many pull-up threes in transition, or step-back threes rather than passing the ball around for a better look. Against an efficient team like San Antonio it’s a tough to swallow so many empty possessions. This is one piece of fat the Nuggets have to trim.
Will either team shake things up on defense? Game 1 wasn’t really helpful in drawing conclusions about how this series will play out because both teams didn’t have their best offensive performances. The Nuggets of course shot terribly (21% from three, which hopefully won’t happen again ever), while the Spurs had very pedestrian games from LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan. The Spurs’ game plan was to make anyone not named Nikola Jokic score and it worked. With a 1-0 lead and some breathing room, look for Jokic to continue to draw the double team from San Antonio, and for Jokic to take advantage of scoring opportunities.
Denver held Aldridge and DeRozan to a combined 12-36, however, at some point one or both of those guys will get theirs. Where Denver could really gain an advantage is on the on margins. The Nuggets largely stopped the Spurs’ two biggest threats, but didn’t have answers for Derrick White, Bryn Forbes and Rudy Gay. The effort and intensity were there from guys like Jamal Murray, but the defensive execution was not. Too often were these other Spurs able to slink by for buckets or left open for three.