What a deflating loss for the Denver Nuggets.

After back-to-back encouraging wins, the Nuggets laid an egg in their first attempt at a series closeout against the San Antonio Spurs. The defensive intensity was a couple of notches below what it was in games 4 and 5, as evidenced by the Spurs’ 34 first-quarter points. But the story was the complete lack of production from Denver’s role players. Nikola Jokic was transcendent. Jamal Murray had a few moments, as did Gary Harris and Paul Millsap. The rest of the team combined for just 18 points on 7 of 29 shooting.

For the Spurs, Rudy Gay made his playoff debut (basically), scoring 19 points on 11 shots including a perfect 3-3 from the three-point line. LaMarcus Aldridge hit some tough fallaways en route to an impressive 25-10-5 line. DeMar DeRozan had a classic DeRozan line: 27-7-7.

This wasn’t Denver’s night. And now everything shifts back to Denver as the two teams square off in a winner-take-all final game on Saturday night. The prize will be a chance to take on a hungry and rested Portland Trail Blazers team on Monday night. For the Denver Nuggets, a team that has shown resolve, belief, and toughness all season long is now required to demonstrate their strong backbone one more time.

Three takeaways

The Nuggets wasted a near perfect game from Nikola Jokic

I don’t think it was the best game of Joker’s career or even in the top 3 but it was great enough that it feels uncomfortable knowing that the Nuggets wasted it. 43 points. 12 rebounds. 9 assists. 3 steals. 1 block. Jokic checked out of the game late in the 3rd quarter with the Nuggets down 3 points. When he checked back in just four game minutes later, the Nuggets were down 13 and the game was almost out of reach.

Jokic has been historically great in his NBA playoff series debut so it feels ominous that the Nuggets haven’t found a way to close this series out. Maybe Jokic’s best is yet to come? Maybe this was it. But the Nuggets can’t expect him to do more than he did tonight.

The bench needs to figure things out

Two points for Malik Beasley. Two for Will Barton. Five for Mason Plumlee. Four for Monte Morris. 5 points for Torrey Craig. Add them all up and they were still outscored by Rudy Gay alone. The Nuggets bench was awful tonight and the Spurs bench got a surprise boost from the one player who has let them down the most though the first five games of the series.

It all comes down to game 7

6 months. 82 regular season games plus 6 playoff games. 4,272 game minutes (and change) and it all comes down to 1. Typically, I’d say that the two best words in sports are “game seven,” but at the moment, it’s hard to balance excitement with complete and total dread heading into a do-or-die game. This isn’t the spot the Nuggets wanted to be in for their first foray into the NBA playoffs but it’s the spot they find themselves in nonetheless. And now a team that has shown resolve all season long will have to muster one last stand in order to truly validate their season.

Game 7 is at Pepsi Center on Saturday. We’ll see you there.