Denver Nuggets 127, San Antonio Spurs 112: Three Takeaways

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A day off in San Antonio proved to be exactly what the Denver Nuggets needed, as an explosive offensive performance fueled a 127-112 victory over the Spurs. The 127 points marked a new season-high for the Nuggets, which was driven by their ball movement and hot shooting from downtown.

Saturday’s rematch didn’t get off to a similar start to Thursday’s contest, as both teams struggled to find a rhythm in the opening minutes, which resulted in a slim 9-6 lead for Denver. Although the Nuggets (13-13) maintained a lead throughout the majority of the quarter, a late 10-2 run from San Antonio (9-16) gave the Spurs a 29-28 lead heading into the second frame. Nikola Jokić led the way with 13 points (including three 3-pointers) in the opening quarter.

An explosion from beyond the arc from Denver’s second unit in the second quarter helped Denver not only regain the lead but extend it to 10 at 53-43. Markus Howard scored 16 in the quarter and combined with Bones Hyland for 27 points in the first half, which included eight 3-pointers. The Nuggets ended the first half with 13 3-pointers, which helped fuel a 72-56 advantage at the break.

A 15-1 run from the Mile High squad in the opening minutes of the second half extended the lead to 30 points, as Denver’s offense continued to move the ball effectively. Jokić scored nine points in the first four minutes of the third quarter to continue to put his stamp on Saturday’s contest and ended up dropping 18 in the frame. The Nuggets took a 103-74 advantage into the fourth and final quarter.

A 22-7 run from the Spurs to open the final quarter gave San Antonio new life, which prompted Nuggets head coach Michael Malone to bring the starters back on the floor to close out the game. Well, that’s exactly what the starters did, as Jokić added to his assists total as Denver secured the victory.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s win.

Hyland & Howard drove second unit success

A sluggish start from Denver in the first quarter was quickly erased due to the hot shooting of Howard and Hyland. With Will Barton out due to a non-COVID illness, Howard earned an opportunity and certainly made the most of it. The sophomore guard scored 16 in the first half (including five made 3-pointers) and ultimately finished with 21 points in his 21 minutes of action.

Meanwhile, Hyland scored 11 in the first half (with three made 3-pointers) and finished with 16 in Saturday’s contest. The rookie guard also chipped in with three assists to balance out his performance. As the Nuggets continue to navigate the season with a shortened rotation, breakout performances like Saturday’s will be crucial.

Hot 3-point shooting and ball movement fueled Denver’s offense

In what has become a trend as of late, the Nuggets’ offense was firing on all cylinders Saturday night, using hot 3-point shooting (20-of-43 from beyond the arc) and effective ball movement (season-high 33 assists) to pick apart the Spurs defense.

As mentioned earlier, the second unit sparked the fireworks display from downtown and helped the Mile High squad hit 13 threes in the first half alone. Although the volume decreased in the second half as San Antonio adjusted defensively, the percentage remained high for Denver from beyond the arc.

Of course, shots falling at an elite clip also reflect on the team’s ball movement. With the Spurs occasionally running a zone/press defense, Denver’s ball-handlers continuously made the right pass to find open shooters or cutters attacking the basket.

Jokić continued his dominant run

The reigning MVP had a relatively quiet, yet impressive first half with 17 points and nine rebounds. Considering that Jokić was coming off three consecutive triple-doubles, you knew there was more to come in the second half.

Then the third quarter happened.

Jokić took control of the game in the third frame, scoring 18 points to match San Antonio’s total output as a team in that quarter as Denver took control of Saturday’s contest. In the end, the Serbian big man finished with 35 points, 17 rebounds, and eight assists on 15-of-24 shooting from the field.

Denver returns home to face the Washington Wizards on Monday (7 p.m. MT).