Grades: San Antonio Spurs at Denver Nuggets – Game #53
The San Antonio Spurs are now digging to find new lows each game out. Tonight, the Spurs dropped to 22-31 after blowing a big lead against the Denver Nuggets. Their 127-120 defeat has San Antonio five games back of the eighth seed in the West.
The Spurs played really well to begin the game. Their offense was humming and their defense was stiff enough for the Silver and Black to build a double-digit lead midway through the first quarter. At the end of the first, the Spurs held a 40-30 advantage.
San Antonio’s good times extended into the second quarter, where they extended their lead to high as 17 points. At intermission, the good guys were up 67-53.
To begin the third period, things remained cheery for the Spurs. A Trey Lyles three-pointer with 6:49 remaining in the period gave San Antonio a 23-point lead, 86-53. But as Spurs fans have become accustomed to as of late, the good times didn’t last. Denver ended the quarter on a 26-9 run to trim the Spurs lead to 93-89 heading into the fourth.
The Nuggets quickly snatched the lead in the fourth quarter but the Spurs had one more punch to land. A 7-0 run by San Antonio gave the Spurs a five-point cushion with 6:41 left in regulation. But Denver quickly responded with a 15-0 run that put San Antonio out of their misery.
Overall, it was another disappointing loss. The Spurs were playing without DeMar DeRozan so it was surprising that they were able to build a 23-point lead on the road in Denver. For long stretches, San Antonio played really, really well. That said, the bottom line is the Spurs suffered a fifth straight loss to begin the 2020 Rodeo Road Trip.
Spurs at Nuggets – Final Grades
I was pleased with how LaMarcus Aldridge played. He came out of the gates focused and ready to rock, scoring 17 points in the first quarter to get the Spurs off on the right foot. When the Spurs gave their one final push in the fourth, again it was Aldridge leading way. Offensively, he did a good job of working outside in. Aldridge hit his perimeter shots first and then when the Nuggets started overplaying him, he had a few physical drives to the rim. Defensively, his main task was guarding Nikola Jokic — and he did well. He was physical with him but avoided getting into foul trouble.
Dejounte Murray had another positive performance on Monday night in a season-high 34 minutes. Passing-wise, I thought he was excellent. His passes were timely and on target and he exhibited a healthy amount of court vision. Murray finished with nine assists and zero turnovers. He wasn’t as effective scoring-wise but he hit enough shots to keep the Nuggets honest. He buried another three and had a couple nifty finishes at the rim. Unfortunately, despite playing the entire fourth period, Murray failed to score in the quarter — and that hurt San Antonio’s comeback chances. Defensively, Murray was really active and did a lot of good but his effectiveness against Jamal Murray waned as the night went along.
The good: Bryn Forbes shot it accurately. His passing was also a plus on the offensive end, as was the fact that he went without a turnover in 29 minutes. The bad: He had a couple moments when he looked competent on defense but those moments were few and far between.
Lonnie Walker IV
With DeMar DeRozan sidelined with back spasms, Lonnie Walker IV got the start. He was … decent? His passing was better than usual and he hustled on defense at times (both in terms of guarding his man and grabbing contested boards) but that was about it. He was quiet on the offensive end and was reluctant to get involved. When Walker hit adversity on offense, he was quick to pass the ball and hide. Defensively, he made a number of blatant errors in transition and in rotations.
Trey Lyles was back in Denver and he played pretty well. Offensively, he was a plus. Lyles shot the ball with confidence, used his dribbling skills to his advantage and dropped off a few slick passes. Defensively, he was better than usual. He was physical when it was needed, moved his feet well enough out on the perimeter and was strong on the boards. That said, Lyles had some moments in the second half where he loafed on defense and his lack of hustle hurt the team.
The good: Derrick White smartly drew fouls and connected on all ten of his free throw attempts. He’s getting really good at leaning into contact as he attacks the bucket. White also had a few good passes and didn’t turn the ball over. The bad: The bench was bad tonight and a notable amount of blame should be put on White. He was tip-toeing and shuffling around too often on offense instead of forcefully creating plays for himself and others. White needs to be more demonstrative if he’s going to emerge as more than a pretty okay player. Defensively, the Spurs hardly got any stops when White was spearheading the attack. It wasn’t always his fault but he didn’t have much energy on that end.
The good: Marco Belinelli was able to convince Pop to play him 19 minutes. The bad: Belinelli missed all his shots on offense. He was way worse on the defensive end, though. When he wasn’t getting blown by, he was standing around doing little to nothing.
This wasn’t a good game for Patty Mills. His stats look okay but he made a lot of mistakes. Defensively, he was hustling but the Nuggets didn’t have trouble scoring when he was involved in plays. Offensively, he lost his cool a couple times and, in response, made a handful of boneheaded decisions. The Spurs can usually count on Mills keeping his wits about him but that wasn’t the case this evening.
Rudy Gay wasn’t amazing but compared to his recent production, this was a few steps in the right direction. When he eyed mismatches, he had the wherewithal to attack and create clean looks. It also helped that he knocked down a couple three-pointers and wasn’t as sloppy as usual. Gay wasn’t much help on defense but he remained moderately active on that end.
On offense, Jakob Poeltl hit a few one-handers in the lane and made a few smart passes. His pick-and-roll timing wasn’t as smooth as usual, though. Defensively, he had good possessions against Jokic and he was sturdy on the glass. On the other hand, his timing when going up for blocks was off. Strangely, after 13 consecutive games with a blocked shot, Poeltl has only one block in his last four games.
DeRozan doesn’t play and White only plays 19 minutes? In what world does that make sense? Instead of leaning on White for more minutes, Pop opened the door for Belinelli. That was a mistake in real time and in retrospect. Sure, Belinelli is easier to coach due to his veteran experience but it was a loser’s strategy to go with him, especially in crunch time. We’re 53 games into the season and Pop still hasn’t realized he needs to play Murray and White together more often, nor has he realized Belinelli’s days as a viable NBA player are over.
Next Up for the Spurs
The Spurs have no time to feel sorry for themselves, as they have a back-to-back against the Oklahoma City Thunder. This is their last chance to not have a bad taste in their mouth over the All-Star break.