Denver Nuggets 106, San Antonio Spurs 96: Three takeaways

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

Even when the Nuggets aren’t their best, they are finding ways to grind out results. They showcased it in a gritty and sometimes emotional 106-96 win over the San Antonio Spurs at Ball Arena.

A controversial non-foul call on contact towards Nikola Jokić in the second quarter saw head coach Michael Malone ejected from the contest as he came to the defense of his All-Star.

"My job as a head coach is to fight and protect all of my players, and tonight, I did that," Malone said of the incident. 

Denver seemingly was energized from the moment, responding with a dominant second half to secure the first of a home and home back-to-back against the Spurs.

"When the coach shows passion like that and shows much how they'll ride for their players, it really makes us work harder," JaVale McGee said. "It makes us go harder." 

Stop us if you’ve read this before, but Jokić once again almost had another triple-double as the center put up 25 points, 10 assists, and nine boards in the Nuggets’ win. San Antonio’s backcourt duo of Derrick White and Dejounte Murray dropped 18 apiece to lead the visitors. The home team was able to rally past the absences of two key players in Jamal Murray (knee) and Paul Millsap (rest) due to a strong showing on defense. The Nuggets held the Spurs to just 41.8 percent shooting and just six threes.

The Nuggets could be the sole owners of the NBA's longest win streak at eight, depending on the result of the Jazz-Suns' game on Wednesday. Denver has won 16 of its last 19 games.

"We have a good group of guys who are playing for each other and trying to figure it out," Jokić said. "I'm really happy with the group of guys that we have. And it's nice to have seven straight wins."

The Nuggets and Spurs will now do this again in 48 hours as Denver will host San Antonio for the final matchup of the season series Friday (7 p.m. MT, Altitude). The series is currently tied at one game each.

Here are the takeaways:

Joker Magic

There were no easy buckets in this contest with both teams shooting under 45 percent, but Jokić was often playing chess against a strong Gregg Popovich-coached defense.

Jokić got going early and picked the Spurs apart, punishing the San Antonio double teams in the first half by racking up six assists to go along with his 15 points. In the third quarter, the superstar center channeled his inner Hakeem Olajuwon, doing a move that was similar to the Dream Shake the Rockets center utilized to terrorize the league for two decades. He would add 10 in the quarter before largely sitting in the fourth with the game escaping San Antonio.

Bench steps up

With Millsap out (rest), McGee got a chance at extended minutes and didn’t disappoint. The veteran center, who is on his second tour with the Nuggets, was a much-needed jolt of energy on both ends for the home team.

McGee sent a message early on when he emphatically swatted Rudy Gay with the shot clock expiring in the second quarter. From then on, he continued to be effective on the glass and taking off for a few powerful slams. McGee would finish the night with seven points, eight rebounds, and a swat and shot 50 percent. He received resounding applause from the Ball Arena-faithful.

"We only had 4,000 people but it still feels like a full crowd," he said. "We appreciate it." 

JaMychal Green joined his reserve frontcourt teammate in having a strong outing with the reserve adding nine points, putting up a few assertive slams of his own. P.J. Dozier was a game-high +25 on the night and tallied eight points and seven rebounds.

Physical showing

For a second straight night, the Nuggets completely outmuscled their opponent en route to a mostly straightforward victory. The home grabbed 53 rebounds to the visitors’ 42 boards.

The team also forced 15 turnovers which it was able to convert into 17 points. The success in that area also again contributed to their significant edge in the fast break, where they had a 18-4 advantage.

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