Denver Nuggets 108, San Antonio Spurs 118: Three takeaways from Game 3

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

Nikola Jokić scored 22 points, but the Denver Nuggets couldn’t contain the San Antonio Spurs in Game 3 of the first round in the Western Conference playoffs in a 118-108 loss at AT&T Center.

Spurs’ second-year guard Derrick White, who hails from Parker, Colo., couldn’t be contained, pouring in a career-high 36 points and added 5 assists, 5 rebounds and 3 steals.

Nuggets head coach Michael Malone was disappointed in his team’s effort in guarding White.

“It was the inability to guard one-on-one, he was impressive from jump street, he got wherever he wanted” Malone said after the game. “That was a hell of a performance from a young player.”

Denver’s bench outscored San Antonio’s 50-19, but it couldn’t help the team overcome a poor fourth quarter showing as it gave up a 27-15 run.

“I think our bench did a good job and our starters did a poor job, that was the M.O. the whole game,” Malone said.

The Nuggets return to action in Game 4 on Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. MT as they look to even up the series (WATCH: ALTITUDE, ALTITUDE NOW, TNT RADIO: KKSE-FM 92.5).

Malone hopes the Nuggets will respond with a gutsy performance on Saturday.

“I’m anxious to see [it] from our guys. How do you respond to that?... Game 4 is going to be a great insight into who we are as a team,” he said.

Here are three takeaways from Game 3:

Nuggets bench mob responds

Denver’s reserves have averaged 22.5 points per game in the opening two games of the playoffs. They exceeded that in the first half, going for 23 points on 10 -for-15 shooting.

The unit came alive in the second quarter as Malik Beasley got the group going with an immediate three to cut the score to 31-24. The play would spark a 16-0 run, giving the Nuggets their biggest lead of the night at 50-40.

“Our bench unit saved us in the second quarter. They came in and played with some moxie, some toughness and some grit. They got us back into it.” Malone said.

While Beasley was the catalyst of the bench group as he was 3 of 3 from the floor, including 2 of 2 from behind the arc, Torrey Craig and Mason Plumlee deserve credit for their impact on both sides of the floor. Craig would finish the first half with 6 points and 6 rebounds on 75 percent shooting.

Monte Morris would pick up what Beasley started in the first half by helping the Nuggets pick up the pace in the third quarter. The backup point guard was a big reason why the team would have 19 fast break points on the night and finished the game with 10 points and 7 assists with only one turnover. Beasley also finished the game with 20 points and nine rebounds.

Nuggets’ defense takes a step back

Denver’s defense has been impressive for the past two months, but it took a step back on Thursday night at AT&T Center. The hosts shot 48.9 percent from the floor and White was a big reason behind it.

The Spurs scored had a career high of 26 points…in the first half. It was also a return to form for LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, with San Antonio’s star duo combining for 43 points on 17 of 35 shooting.

In the first two games, the Nuggets had succeeded in taking both players out of their comfort zones. They have to get back to that if they want to even up the series on Saturday.

Missed opportunities from the charity stripe:

The Nuggets struggled to convert from the free throw in Game 3 as they missed 9 of their 17 attempts. That amounts to eight points that the team should have added to their total.

Denver has struggled in this area for the past month. They entered the game shooting 68 percent in the playoffs and finished April shooting 71.3 percent. The team shot 75.4 percent on the season.

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