Denver Nuggets 127, San Antonio Spurs 120: Three takeaways

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

The Nuggets rallied from 23 points down to remain one of the hottest teams in the NBA with an impressive 127-120 win over the San Antonio Spurs at home. 

Jamal Murray continued his dominant form since returning from injury, leading the Nuggets with 26 points and six assists. Paul Millsap was also crucial in the team’s rally, chipping in 22 points and seven boards. San Antonio was paced by LaMarcus Aldridge, who had a game-high 33 points. 

The Nuggets struggled early with the Spurs going on a 19-8 run in the opening minutes of the contest. The home team couldn’t defend downtown, with San Antonio hitting 7 of 9 from behind the arc. Aldridge sparked the Spurs in the opening minutes, dominating with 12 points in 11 minutes. 

Things wouldn’t get much better for Denver in the second quarter, with the Nuggets failing behind by 17 after Spurs guard Dejounte Murray scored on a dunk at the 5:13 mark. Rudy Gay proved difficult for the Nuggets to contain in the quarter as the veteran forward scored nine points on 3 of 6 shooting. Denver would enter the halftime break trailing 67-53. 

When the Spurs took a 93-80 lead late in the third quarter, it appeared as if the visitors would walk away with a win. A crazy sequence in the final minute of the third quarter changed everything. Jordan McRae was fed the ball by Nikola Jokić from outside the arc and the new Nugget swished in the bucket. Then, Paul Millsap would follow McRae’s shot with a three of his own seconds later. To cap off an dramatic end to the third quarter, Monte Morris would knock in a 30-foot three-point shot to beat the buzzer. What was once a 13-point lead was cut to just four entering the final 12 minutes of the game. 

The barrage from downtown would continue in the fourth quarter as the Millsap and Jamal Murray hit another two more three-pointers. From the end of the third quarter to the beginning of the fourth, the Nuggets hit five consecutive threes and they were by no means finished. Millsap would prove heroic again with his fourth three-pointer to give the Nuggets their first lead of the night at 102-99. 

Aldridge helped the Spurs as his five points would help his team go on an 8-0 run. The boisterous Pepsi Center crowd helped energize the home team as Jamal Murray would take over. The 22-year-old guard hit two-straight buckets to give Denver a 110-109 lead. San Antonio couldn’t contain Jamal Murray in the final 12 minutes as he proceeded to put 14 points up in that stretch. The Nuggets would hold on to secure their fourth consecutive win. 

"Hell of a win," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. "After that first quarter where our defense was nonexistent, I thought we did a pretty good job on that end of the floor. The biggest stat for me - 34 assists, only one turnover the whole second half. So, in the second half we had 17 assists and one turnover. That was another remarkable comeback by our resilient group."
The Nuggets will play their final game prior to the All-Star break against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday at Pepsi Center. 

Here are the takeaways: 

Murray remains clutch

Jamal Murray has been on fire since his return from an ankle injury, averaging 29 points on 61.5 percent shooting in Denver’s last three games. That torrid stretch would carry over to Monday’s contest as the Canadian put aside a slow start to take over the second half. 

"Tonight, the first half didn't go my way and I got banged up, but I just came out of the half and I recouped and got back together," Murray said. 

Murray finished the first half with three points on 1-of-5 shooting. In the final 24 minutes, he would score 23 points on 10 of 16 shooting. His 14 points in the fourth quarter were the difference for Denver, who was able to push its win streak to four. 

"It wasn't just me, it was a collective effort," Murray said. 

McRae solid in Nuggets debut 

Jordan McRae dressed but didn’t play in the Nuggets’ win over the Suns on Saturday. He ensured he made the most of his debut at Pepsi Center Monday. 

The former Washington Wizard was brought in to help the Nuggets replace some of the production from Malik Beasley’s departure and he delivered in a big way against the Spurs. His timely three towards the end of the third quarter sparked a 9-0 run to help Nuggets get back into the game. McRae was also effective in other facets of the game as he added five rebounds and three assists to go along with 8 points in just 16 minutes. He was a +16 on the night and showed why he could potentially be a good fit in Malone’s rotation.  

McRae, who arrived from 18-33 Wizards last week, admitted after the game he appreciated joining a winning locker room culture with the Nuggets.

“It’s awesome. I’ve never been on a team that’s this good, this young. The energy here is always great," McRae said. "Guys are energetic, guys want to win, guys are having fun. So far, it’s been great.” 

Both Millsap and McRae reside in the Atlanta area during the offseason and Millsap was happy to see his friend have a strong start in Denver. 

"I've known Jordan for a long time. To see him go out there and not be rattled or bothered and utilize his minutes, it just shows the type of guy he is," Millsap said. "It shows he can play. I watched him play, watched him score a lot in my lifetime. I hoop with him in the summertime, to see him get out there, it's unbelievable to watch."

Millsap shines on birthday

Millsap put up a double-double in the Nuggets’ win against the Suns and his hot hand continued against San Antonio. The now 35-year-old wouldn’t be denied from distance, where he hit 4 of 5 from downtown. 

"Paul Millsap, it was tough taking him out because we have to limit his minutes, but he made the most of his opportunity tonight," Malone said. 

Millsap’s evolution from behind the arc has been one of the top stories of the season for Denver. Consider this: Millsap only hit 31 threes in his first seven years in the league. He’s 32-of-78 (41 percent) this season. Millsap was also effective in forcing turnovers, grabbing two steals, and on the glass where he had seven boards.  

 "We were giving him some smack this morning about being a senior citizen," Malone said. "He's playing like he played to start the year. To start the season I thought Paul and Will [Barton] were our best players. Just like Jamal [Murray] and now Paul, having time off, recuperating, getting healthy, and coming back fresh. That's great."

He added, "Paul was great. Every time he shot the ball during that stretch, I thought it was going in. Most of the time it did." 

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