Denver Nuggets’ Torrey Craig makes presence felt in first NBA playoffs start vs. Spurs

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

After the final game of the regular season, Torrey Craig was asked what his expectations were heading into his first playoff experience.  The small forward immediately and confidently quipped, “I’ve been to the playoffs in Australia!”

That statement is symbolic of the 28-year-old’s rise this season. There appears to be no moment too big for a player who fought his way into the NBA after being undrafted in 2014.

In his first-ever NBA playoff start, Craig was a significant reason why the Nuggets finally ended their seven-year winless run at the Spurs’ AT&T Center in a 117-103 victory. Craig was a force on both sides of the floor for Denver, finishing the game with 18 points, eight rebounds and two steals on 66.7 percent shooting – including 5 of 7 from downtown. Not bad for a player who was on a two-way contract just a year ago.

Craig acknowledged after the game that with the Nuggets down 2-1 in the first round series against the Spurs, the team couldn’t afford to fall to 3-1.

“I just came out here and tried to play with confidence,” Craig said. “I knew we were in a tough situation and we really needed this win. I just tried to play with a lot of confidence and a lot of energy.”

Craig came into the NBA with a reputation as a solid defensive player, as evidenced by being named the Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 in Australia’s NBL. He’s lived up to those expectations and helped contain Spurs star DeMar DeRozan. San Antonio’s small forward did shoot 53.8 percent but wasn’t allowed to get up many shots due to a lack of space. DeRozan got so frustrated that he actually got ejected after being called for a charge on Craig. It was a sign of just how effective Craig was.

Where Craig needed work was on offense, as he struggled in three-point and free throw shooting last season. Nuggets head coach Michael Malone challenged him to be a factor from downtown, pointing to a former three-time NBA champion as inspiration.

“I remember saying to him last year, [be like] Bruce Bowen,” Malone said after Game 4. “A guy that played here [in San Antonio], could guard multiple positions and became a prolific corner three-point shooter. You’ve got to add that to your game if you want to be in the league for a long time.”

Malone wanted to make sure that if he gave Craig extended minutes, the small forward wouldn’t be a player opposing defenses ignore. On Saturday afternoon, Craig proved he could be a player who plays within the offense and comes up in big moments.

“Now, he’s not just a one-trick pony,” Malone said. “He finishes, he rebounds, he defends and obviously, he can make the three-point shot. His confidence in shooting that ball is very high and obviously allowing him to shoot it.”

Malone added. “Torrey deserves so much credit for staying with it and improving his overall basketball game.”

He deserves plenty of credit for helping the Nuggets return to Pepsi Center with the first round series tied at 2-2 as well.

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