The San Antonio Spurs won their third straight game by defeating the Denver Nuggets by a final score of 119-109. It was another impressive victory for the good guys. While they had their share of mistakes, the Spurs played hard throughout and were able to outlast the Nuggets.
With eight minutes remaining in the contest, the game was knotted at 95-95. Keldon Johnson grabbed an offensive rebound on his own miss and put it back in. That play sparked a 7-0 run to give the Spurs some cushion. When the Nuggets got back within four points, a Dejounte Murray three-pointer pushed it out to seven with 5:50 remaining — and the Nuggets were never able to truly threaten the Spurs again.
San Antonio’s unrelenting hustle paid dividends on the glass in the fourth quarter. The Spurs had six offensive rebounds in the deciding period, while the Nuggets had none. Even when the Spurs were making mistakes, their gang rebounding on both ends was able to mask any flaws.
Spurs vs. Nuggets: Final Grades
Dr. DeRozan sliced and diced the Nuggets and used the basketball as his scalpel. To say he made great decisions on offense would be an understatement. He exhibited great patience in all facets — from his positioning in the post to his spoonfeeding of teammates. He expertly used his footwork and his underrated strength to carve out opportunities for himself and his brethren. DeRozan had all 30 of his points in the first three quarters as he fought to steady the ship. In the fourth, he responded to Denver’s collapsing defense by finding the open man. Add in some physical play on defense and it’s fair to say DeRozan was spectacular.
The Spurs were relentless throughout the evening — and Murray was leading that charge. From the opening tip, he was focused and had kept his foot pressed all the way down on the gas pedal. He took a few questionable shots and missed a couple bunnies but all of that was forgivable due to the unwavering pressure he applied on the Nuggets. Defensively, it was more of the same. Sure, he was beat on backdoor passes a couple of times but he more than made up for it with limitless energy.
Johnson also deserves a ton of credit in terms of keeping the team’s energy level turned all the way up to the highest notch. He made strong, muscular, bullyball moves to the rim but also picked his spots well. His second-jump and reaction speeds in the lane were insanely fast tonight and led directly to numerous positive plays on both ends. Overall, I just really liked the ruggedness Big Body played with on defense and the big brained gusto he played with on offense.
Lonnie Walker IV
On paper, Walker had a terrible game. He had four turnovers and went 1-for-5 from the field. In reality, I think he was a better than the numbers show. Offensively, his speed was a difference-making attribute in San Antonio’s arsenal. When he got out and ran, he made everyone else look like they were moving in slow motion. He also mixed in some flashes of playmaking. Defensively, he had a few egregious moments where he picked up the wrong man or rotated poorly — but he was playing hard on that end and did better than usual work on the boards.
Not the prettiest of outings for Aldridge. He was so incapable defensively that it was difficult to justify having him out there. Right now, Aldridge can’t defend out on the perimeter — and Nikola Jokic was well aware of that fact. But to make matters worse, he’s also not rebounding even when he hangs back in the paint. Offensively, Aldridge never got going. The Nuggets were quick to close out on him with length, so he had very few looks. To his credit, he never moped and was passing better than usual.
Mills continues his excellent season. Tonight, his defense was so good that it’s the first thing I’ll bring up. This was indeed one of the best defensive games I’ve ever seen him play. When he faced mismatches, he not only held up well — he was actively blowing plays up with his gumption and guile. Mills was also boxing out like a madman and had a rare contested rebounding that he snared within inches of the rim. Oh, and yeah, offensively Mills was good too. He was an ever-present threat from beyond the three-point line and was constantly zipping around the court with and without the ball.
Compared to Aldridge, Poeltl was a gigantic improvement on defense. He wasn’t exceptionally effective against Jokic but he actually made him work for his points. He was good on the boards, set a ton of screens on and off the ball, and he was quick up and down the court. The bad: He could have been tougher with the ball and airballing a free throw after the Nuggets went to Hack-a-Jak made it necessary to remove him from the game in the fourth quarter.
More good stuff from Vassell. He wasn’t perfect on defense but the rookie seemed to be in the middle of everything. It’s still amazing how far advanced he is on that end of the court. Offensively, the only shot he missed was a three-pointer he was clearly fouled on. It’s very encouraging that he has no issue launching threes even with his man in his face. Vassell also illustrated that he’s capable of shooting off the bounce. If his offensive game gets going, it’s going to be difficult to keep him off the court.
The good: Gay authored some of San Antonio’s best passes of the night. His no-look dishes in the lane were extremely slick. He was gobbling up any potential rebound in his airspace. He was moving better than he has in recent games, which led to a higher quality of defense. The bad: His outside jumper continues to look short when leaving his hands. Gay was forcing the action too much at times and the results were oftentimes sloppy.
I like just about everything Pop did. As great as DeRozan was playing, Pop gave him ample rest. He rightfully leaned on Poeltl and away from Aldridge. He stuck with Walker and gave extra time to Vassell. In terms of Xs and Os, Pop kept changing up where the double-teams on Jokic were coming from, which kept the Serbian center from picking the Spurs apart with passes. The Spurs also responded really well after Denver fell back into a zone defense.
The Spurs play a back-to-back when the Memphis Grizzlies come to town on Saturday night. The Nuggets came into tonight’s game with a five-game winning streak. The Grizzlies will go into tomorrow’s game with a five-game winning streak. Hopefully the end result is the same and the Spurs can be the team to see their winning streak extend another game.