Let’s be real.
No one’s surprised this is the series headed to seven games.
The Nuggets, for all their regular-season success, are making their inaugural playoff run with this core — an NBA recipe for early exits and anguish.
The Spurs, well … they’re the Spurs. Sure DeMar DeRozan is new, but the rest of the roster is a blend of experienced vets and up-and-comers steeped in San Antonio culture. Pop. RC. Y’all know the drill.
We had a Derrick White game, the only surprise was the identity of the Spurs’ postseason breakout star in that previous clause.
And then, Thursday.
Backs against the wall, in front of the home fans, the Spurs raced out to a 34-26 lead after one behind 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting by LaMarcus Aldridge. They only briefly turned over the lead before halftime, and it was a gradual wrap from there. Rudy Gay ripped off 12 in the second quarter (4/5 FGs) and DeRozan 12 in the third quarter (6/7 FGs).
“Do or die, literally,” DeRozan said. “We was on our home court, it was on me and LA to come out aggressive, and we did.”
While Nikola Jokic came through in every possible way, posting a franchise postseason-best 43 points (19/30 FGs), 12 rebounds and nine assists, the Nuggets left the offense at home. While the Spurs were hitting at a 57.1 percent clip, Denver shot a pedestrian 45.8 percent from the field, including a crushing 6-for-24 from 3-point range.
A tough performance, especially considering Jokic was putting everybody in the post blender: defenders, bystanders … himself.
“We didn’t defend,” said coach Nuggets Michael Malone. “Just wasn’t good enough tonight … The good thing for us is we worked hard to have homecourt advantage to go home and play a Game 7, and we had the best home record in the NBA this year.”
Paul Millsap, succinctly, and fairly firm: “We’ll take care of business.”
A moment of controversy came early in the third quarter when Spurs center Jakob Poeltl set a hard screen for White, one that left Murray crumpled in a heap.
The Nuggets guard crawled his way into a limping jog, finally getting up on his own power and massaging his knee.
Murray stayed in the game, but was ineffective thereafter, contributing only five points (2/8 FGs) and four assists after halftime. He didn’t meet with media postgame, though coach Malone did acknowledge that he and the Nuggets staff have been in contact with the league regarding the perceived legality of San Antonio screens.
“Jamal got taken out on that play, I don’t know if it was dirty or not,” Malone said. “I don’t think Jakob Poeltl is a dirty player — I really don’t. I’ll have to watch the film to see how that happened and how Jamal went down with that injury. But they’re a physical team and they set good screens and we have to learn from that.”
Poeltl told reporters, “I think I am setting legal screens. If I’m not, somebody is going to let me know about it. I’m not really worried about it.”
One more game to see whether the Nuggets can adjust — the first Game 7 in Denver since 1978 — and they’ll likely need Murray at something close to full strength if the Spurs shoot anything close to their Thursday mark. Either way, San Antonio says they’re ready.
“That’s what it’s all about,” DeRozan said. “Game 7, live for the moment. Got to lay it all out on the line.”
Sad news arrived midway through the game, when the Boston Celtics announced the passing of NBA legend John Havlicek. The Hall of Famer died Thursday at age 79, having dealt with Parkinson’s disease in recent years.
Havlicek set Celtics career records for points and games, earning recognition as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history. He won eight championships, snagged a Finals MVP and the Celtics retired his No. 17. Here’s to one of the all-time greats.
California, here we come
While the Clippers were busy extending their series against the Warriors, the Rockets were busy … preparing for a series against the Warriors. Yikes.
Per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon:
The Rockets intend no disrespect to the LA Clippers — who will host the Warriors in Game 6 of their first-round series on Friday — but the quick turnaround between series put Houston in the awkward position of making travel plans based on probabilities.
The goal is to get adjusted early to Pacific time, given that series is set to open in San Francisco if the Warriors win either Game 6 or 7. And if a Clippers shocker means heading back to Houston, well, they’ll at least have advance notice.