Denver Nuggets 96, San Antonio Spurs 101: Three Takeaways

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

The Nuggets couldn’t get over some early-game struggles in a tough 101-96 loss against the Spurs in the opening game of the Western Conference First Round.

Gary Harris led the Nuggets with 20 points, while DeMar DeRozan paced the Spurs with 18 points.

The Pepsi Center was rocking as the postseason returned for the first time in six years, but the Nuggets failed to get into rhythm from the onset. While the team’s defense held the Spurs to 37.5 percent in the opening 12 minutes, it couldn’t convert on the other side of the floor. Denver shot just 29.2 percent in the first quarter and 11.1 percent from downtown. Those struggles would follow the team until the fourth quarter where it rallied to cut the score to 97-96.

Denver will now look to regroup when they host the Spurs for Game 2 at Pepsi Center on Tuesday night (7 p.m. MT, WATCH: ALTITUDE, NBA TV, RADIO: KKSE-FM 92.5). Nuggets head coach Michael Malone stressed the importance of traveling to San Antonio with the series tied at 1-1.

“Obviously, this was not the desired result, giving them home court advantage right back after Game 1. I reminded our guys that we did some good things, we gave ourselves a chance down the stretch,” Malone said.

He added, “This was Game 1 for a lot of players in that locker room. We’ll regroup, we’ll watch film, we’ll clean some things up and most importantly, in the playoffs, you never get too high, you never get too low.”

Here are three takeaways from the game:

Missed opportunities

Denver won’t be happy with its showing from behind the arc and the charity stripe. The team could only convert 6 of its 28 attempts from the three-point line. Free throws weren’t much better

The Nuggets hit just 16 of their 24 free throws, good for 66.7 percent. Considering how valuable each possession and point is in the postseason, it will be vital for the team to improve in both areas.

“This is a make or miss league,” Malone said. “We shoot 42 percent from the field, 21 percent from three, we miss eight free throws. Think about that. We left a lot of points on the free throw line. [From the] field, three, free throw line, we have to be better.”

Denver finished the regular season shooting 35.1 percent from the arc, which was 17th in the league. In a strategic move, the Spurs loaded the lane with three defenders on a lot of possessions, forcing the Nuggets to attempt more shots from downtown. It was a move that proved effective in the opening three quarters, as the home shot 3-of-21.

The Nuggets would show improvement in the final 12 minutes though. Malik Beasley almost made Pepsi Center explode with an incredible dunk attempt over Davis Bertans. While the shot didn’t go in, the crowd was on its feet and that sparked the Nuggets. The team would hit three of its seven three-point attempts in the fourth quarter.

Denver will need more of the same on Tuesday if it hopes to even the series against San Antonio.

Nikola Jokić enters the history books

Jokić finished the game with 10 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists. In doing so, he became the fourth player in NBA history to secure a triple-double in his first-ever playoff game. The 24-year-old joined LeBron James, Magic Johnson and Johnny McCarthy in accomplishing the feat.

Jokić’s all-around versatility is well-known. The Serbian center was one of just two NBA players to lead their teams in points, rebounds, assists and steals this season – the other being LeBron James. He is also second in the league in triple-doubles at 12. The question was if his style of play could translate in the playoffs. In Jokic’s playoff debut, the 24-year-old didn’t disappoint.

While Jokić struggled to get buckets in the first three quarters, he found ways to impact the game in other ways. The Nuggets All-Star dished out nine dimes in the first half and had 12 rebounds going into the final 12 minutes of the game.

Jokić acknowledged that he was doubled for most of the game, but tried to use that towards the Nuggets advantage.

“I think we did a really good job [of finding open opportunities]. We found open shots, we couldn’t make most of those…That was the main problem.” Jokić said.

Harris and Barton step up

Gary Harris’ late season resurgence continued in his playoff debut.

The Nuggets shooting guard came alive in the fourth quarter, scoring nine of his 20 points in the final 12 minutes of the game. He was equally effective on the defensive end as he was part of the committee that hounded DeMar DeRozan to a 6-of-17 shooting night. Considering Harris’ midseason struggles on offense, the 24-year-old looks comfortable again on the floor.

I’m just trying to be aggressive. I’m just trying to [make] my impact on the game,” Harris said of his performance. “I was feeling good. I was able to make some plays for the team.”

Will Barton got back to his best in the opening game of the first round as he finished the game with 15 points and 10 rebounds. The Nuggets small forward kept the team in the game when it struggled in the opening three quarters. In April, Barton was averaging just 7.3 points and 4.2 rebounds, so this was another positive that the Nuggets could build on heading into Game 2.

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