It looked like something clicked for the Denver Nuggets during Game 4 on Saturday. What was the “It” that Denver had been searching for?
Ryan Blackburn: They found a defensive formula to slow down Derrick White. With Gary Harris attached to DeMar DeRozan, the Nuggets had done a solid job of preventing San Antonio’s top scorers from being the difference makers in the series. Denver lost Game 1 because Bryn Forbes and Derrick White killed them. They lost Game 3 because White annihilated them. They limited White in Game 4 with better defensive play from Jamal Murray and starting Gary Harris on him initially. That completely changed the complexion of Denver’s defense.
Gordon Gross: Making a million threes is not a strategy, but it certainly helped - especially since they got outshot from the free throw line again. In case you’re counting, Denver won the free-throw-shooting-attempts competition by five in Denver - and lost it by THIRTY TWO in San Antonio. If you consider that Denver is unlikely to shoot almost 50% from three again but also won’t get demolished at the free throw line again in the Pepsi Center, the best change they made was playing with a purpose. Yes, Craig’s defense on Derrick White helped. His threes did too. But Denver played like they rightfully believed they were the better team, and hopefully that swagger carries forward the rest of this series.
Zach Mikash: Not over thinking this, the “it” was starting Torrey Craig. Ryan’s answer about the defensive formula is a result of starting Craig. Gordon talks about making a bunch of threes, Craig hit more than anyone in game 4. Obviously it went about as good as you can hope for with starting Torrey, and you don’t expect him to go 5/7 from three every game, but making that change was no doubt the main catalyst for the outcome in my opinion.
Michael Malone made a successful starting lineup change by replacing Will Barton with Torrey Craig. How will Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs counter in Game 5?
Blackburn: The best way to beat the Nuggets is by isolating their individual weaknesses, so I think Popovich will make a pointed effort in two areas: attacking Nikola Jokic by looking to draw fouls and attacking Jamal Murray in space. If the Spurs can force Jokic out of the game, their odds dramatically increase. So far, they haven’t been able to do that, but they should certainly try in Game 5. With Murray likely defending Bryn Forbes in Game 5, I’d expect San Antonio to try and get him a ton of shots. Particularly deep threes.
Gross: I agree with Ryan, the strategy points to trying to get Jokic with a silly foul or two and to punish Denver’s guards from distance or in the PnR (again, to try to get Jokic into foul trouble near the basket). Pop’s also going to work the refs like there’s no tomorrow - because if San Antonio can’t keep shooting more free throws than the Nuggets they could struggle to keep up in Denver.
Mikash: I imagine first and foremost he’s going to make Torrey prove it. If TC can’t knock down threes early in the game or struggles shooting at all then I expect a lot of the same defensive strategy we’ve already seen. If he is on though it’s going to be tough to find an answer. Can’t double Nikola hard like they were before if guys are hitting 50% of their threes, can’t leave LaMarcus Aldridge or Jakob Poetl one on one with Nikola or he’ll destroy them though. Tough call for Pop on what to do as up to this point his team has been winning based on things the opposition was doing poorly on their own (missing wide open shots, not remembering how to defend), hard to say what the adjustment is when they stop doing that.
There was point on Saturday when the Nuggets looked like they lost the series. What percentage chance do you think they have of winning the series right now?
Blackburn: 65 percent. It really felt like something clicked for Denver in Game 4. They simply looked like the better team for most of the game and played like it on both ends. If they continue to shoot well from the perimeter and allow Jokic to post up with a spaced floor, then I see them winning two of the final three games in this series, possibly the next two, pretty handily. If the shooting dries up, then it’s a different story.
Gross: 70 percent. If they win Game 5 then they should win the series. Playoff odds traditionally crash abominably for home teams that lose AT home in Game 5, though, as expecting the team to recover and win two straight - with the first on the road in a must-win - is a tough ask. But Denver’s one-game shooting recovery is not a trend, and Torrey Craig isn’t a balm to cure all ailments. There’s still work to do, but I believe Denver takes the series if they keep the intensity and belief they found in Game 4 the rest of the way.
Mikash: 95 percent. San Antonio has to pray the Nuggets forget how to shoot or defend again. Like I said above, I don’t really think they have any adjustments they can make and I truly think this is the Nuggets series to lose. Now that they have their first playoff game out of the way, their first road playoff game out of the way and the “can’t win in San Antonio” stigma out of the way I don’t think their going to give the Spurs any more golden opportunities to steal the series. San Antonio had the Nuggets in must win situations in games 2 and 4, had double digit leads in both and couldn’t put Denver away, no reason to think that’s going to change now that the momentum has swung entirely back to the Nuggets.