Damian Lillard hit an ice-cold buzzer beater from 37 feet two nights ago to finish off Oklahoma City. The Rockets put the Jazz out of its misery last night. And now, the Denver Nuggets have the chance to close the first round against the San Antonio Spurs in a pivotal Game 6.
But doing so will be far from easy. Going into the AT&T Center and expecting a win is like going to Grandma’s house and expecting to not find food in the pantry from 1987. The Spurs are a very good home team and have not lost in San Antonio twice in a row this season. They are hungry and desperate after two shellackings at the hands of the Mile High crew that has put Denver ahead 3-2 in the series. All their cards will be on the table.
Can the Nuggets close things out, or will San Antonio force a Game 7?
Who: Denver Nuggets (3-2) at San Antonio Spurs (2-3)
Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX
When: 6:00 PM MT
How to watch: TNT/Altitude
Rival blog: Pounding the Rock
How will each team respond to the pressure of Game 6? There’s this really corny “choose your own adventure” show on Netflix right now where you go on a mission in the wilderness with Bear Grylls and you have to make the right decisions in order to successfully survive (Should Bear eat these harmless flowers or raw bird eggs with a 1000% chance of making him sick? You decide!). This first round series can essentially be categorized into two similar questions for the Nuggets: do we try to coast through on talent alone, or do we play our winning brand of basketball? It’s easy to tell which games in this series the Nuggets have chosen the latter option. Game 6 is no exception. If the Nuggets play with the same focus, energy and teamwork as the past two games, then a second round date with Portland can be theirs.
The Spurs, on the other hand, have their backs up against the wall - a dangerous territory for the Nuggets. San Antonio has everything to lose and will be pulling out all the stops. Will they make it a point to get under Nikola Jokic’s skin or to get him in foul trouble? How much more physical will they be? Does Gregg Popovich have any last tricks up his sleeve? Time will tell.
Key Matchup: Torrey Craig vs. DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan has had a good series thus far, but ever since Denver’s lineup change has been much quieter. That’s why this is the key matchup tonight. Derozan was brought in for the likes of Game 6 as the centerpiece of the Kawhi Leonard trade. He needs to have a great night for the Spurs to have a chance, and you can bet he will be looking to make that happen. Craig and the Nuggets have done a fine job forcing him into missed shots the past two games, but tonight will present another difficult challenge. If there’s anyone on the Nuggets who’s up for a defensive challenge, though, it’s Torrey Craig.
Michael Malone’s rotations. Malone has knocked most of this series out of the park, and not just for replacing Will Barton in the starting lineup. In general he has done a solid job at putting Denver in the best spot to succeed. For example, Mason Plumlee has struggled for the majority of the series. Normally Malone likes to ride or die with Plumlee, but in Game 5, Plumdog only played four minutes pre-garbage time, and only shared the court with Jokic for about one of those minutes, as Denver’s smaller lineups have killed the Spurs throughout. Lineup adjustments like that can end up playing a significant part in the outcome of a game like it did on Tuesday, so let’s hope Malone can continue to make the optimal decisions.