After an exciting win in their season opener, the San Antonio Spurs didn’t have an encore performance in the season’s second game. Locked in a back and forth battle all night with the Denver Nuggets, the Spurs didn’t make enough plays at the end and lost by a final score of 102-96.
The Nuggets are a really good team and they were playing their home opener, so this outcome wasn’t much of a surprise. While San Antonio could have played better, I thought they exhibited a healthy amount of fight for a majority of the game.
The Spurs went on a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to trim Denver’s 11-point lead to a single point. Aided by the re-entrance of Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets responded with an 11-3 run over the span of three minutes to retake control of the game.
Jokic showed why he’s the NBA’s reigning MVP. In 34 minutes, he had 32 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and a block.
Spurs at Nuggets: Final Grades
Johnson was ready to play from the opening tip. He scored San Antonio’s first seven points and had 18 of his 27 points to keep the Spurs afloat going into halftime. The best part about Johnson’s play is that he didn’t rely on his brute strength. Instead, he was crafty and conniving with the ball. Big Body could have been Average Body and still had a strong outing based on his skill alone. Johnson’s overall defensive play was above average. To nitpick, he could have rebounded better and there were a few open passes he didn’t make.
His stats might not jump off the page but I thought White was really good. Defensively, he was a beast. On the inside and on the outside, he was a relentless pest who wreaked havoc by moving his feet, being in the right position and, when need be, getting his hands dirty. Offensively, while he can shoot it straighter, I was impressed by his court vision, playmaking and his overall steadiness.
The Spurs struggled to string together positive possessions on offense and a lot of that had to do with Murray’s shaky play — particularly in the first half when he recorded all four of his turnovers. Even when he cleaned up his play in the second half, Murray’s running of the offense was far from smooth. He got hot here and there and did some good work on defense but it was mostly a struggle for Murray on this night.
McDermott’s newness to the team was apparent. He had a few defensive blunders in transition. On the other end, his movement wasn’t amounting to much. All in all, his defense wasn’t terrible but he was a liability in isolation situations. McDermott needs to be more involved offensively to justify playing the number of minutes that he did.
Poeltl got two early fouls and that seemed to knock him out of his rhythm. For the rest of the game, he was more hesitant than usual. His defense against Jokic wasn’t effective and his inability to clean up the defensive glass compounded issues. Offensively, Poeltl played with purpose, which helped retain some of his value. He rolled hard, displayed some touch away from the rim and stayed on high alert.
The Good: Vassell’s defense was again really good. He was especially good in transition and when helping from the weakside. Offensively, he was aggressive and played with bravado. The Bad: Vassell’s execution on offense was lacking, as sometimes he failed to tiptoe the line between being aggressive and trying to do too much.
Lonnie Walker IV
Walker was playing pretty well until he took a hard tumble on a drive to the basket. Prior to that, his athleticism was creating opportunities for himself and others around him. He’s being tasked to be a main playmaker for the bench unit and he appears to be up for the task. Defensively, he was okay-ish, with a few more bad plays than good plays.
Eubanks had a couple jump hooks, a few good passes and a pair of contested boards but otherwise he wasn’t effective. Defensively, he did very little right. His perimeter defense was bad and he was hopeless against Jokic. Eubanks needs to get better on the defensive end or else he could lose his spot in the rotation.
With Poeltl and Eubanks in foul trouble, Young got some run. He looked like he had no idea what to do … and that’s somewhat understandable considering how he was an afterthought in preseason and didn’t play in the opener. Then again, Young is a veteran who shouldn’t have been as clueless as he was on both ends. His defense was ineffective and his jitteriness on offense was palpable.
Forbes had a second straight really bad outing. He was laughably terrible on defense and he didn’t help at all on the offense. Forbes spent most of his minutes getting cooked on both ends by Facu Campazzo, a 5-foot-5 Argentine.
With Forbes getting benched for the second half, Tre Jones got a sprinkle of playing time. He looked fine in his cameo.
I agreed with most of what Pop did. I liked that he once again pulled the plug on Forbes. The rest of the rotation was fine for the most part. He threw out some defensive wrinkles sporadically to keep the Nuggets off balance. In retrospect, giving backup center minutes to Jock Landale couldn’t have hurt. More minutes to Vassell (or Walker [or Keita Bates-Diop]) and less to McDermott may have helped matters. But, all in all, Pop had his troops playing hard and they had a chance in the fourth quarter to steal one.
I wouldn’t classify this as a moral victory but it also wasn’t a demoralizing loss. The Spurs were competitive against a playoff team on the road despite showing plenty of areas where they can improve. Up next, San Antonio goes back home to host the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night. Playing the defending champs on the second night of a back-to-back isn’t optimal, especially with the starters playing so many minutes tonight.