Grades: Spurs vs. Nuggets – Game 5, 2019 NBA Playoffs

In the first few minutes of the first quarter, the Spurs were playing decently well. Their offensive execution was steady and they were competing on defense. Then everything fell apart. San Antonio went scoreless for a five-minute stretch starting at the 7:42 mark of the first period and the Nuggets grabbed control.

Leading 26-19 going into the second quarter, Denver steadily built their lead and went into intermission with a 53-42 advantage. The third quarter is where it totally went off the rails for San Antonio, as the Nuggets began the second half with a 16-4 run to go up 23 points. The Spurs never legitimately threatened the home team’s lead again, as the Nuggets built their cushion to as high as 30 points.

The loss, by a final count of 108-90, puts the Spurs in a 3-2 hole in this first round series. The good guys return to San Antonio to play a must-win game on Thursday night. 

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LaMarcus Aldridge

LaMarcus Aldridge wasn’t necessarily bad but he didn’t put up much of a fight. In the game’s first three quarters, he was only 4-for-10 from the floor and missed a few demoralizing point-blank shots right at the rim. In his defense, Aldridge wasn’t getting many touches tonight. That said, I expected more urgency out of San Antonio’s lone All-Star. Defensively, he was okay and he did well enough on the boards but nothing on this night stood out as uniquely positive for Aldridge. 
Grade: C-
Summary: Aldridge never found a rhythm and never really seemed to be too concerned about that. 

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DeMar DeRozan

Early on, DeMar DeRozan’s effort was solid. He hit his first two shots from the floor and appeared to be playing a determined brand of basketball. But when things got tough for the Spurs, DeRozan folded. I didn’t like his body language and, of course, he steadily whined about the refereeing. After his two early makes, he hit only two of his next nine field goal attempts. His playmaking was totally missing in action; DeRozan’s lone assist didn’t come until the game was essentially over. Defensively, he made a couple plays but was mostly well below average. 
Grade: D
Summary: DeRozan’s defeatist aura didn’t help matters. 

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Derrick White

While Derrick White’s statistics look decent, it must be prominently noted that he hit his final four shots from the floor well into garbage time in the fourth quarter. Up until his late flurry, he was 1-for-7 from the floor with one assist. White wasn’t moving well on either end, lacked any burst to the basket, was passing up wide open shots and wasn’t creating shots for teammates at a satisfactory level. Honestly, he looked nothing like the player who dropped 36 points in Game 3. Making his night even more difficult was foul trouble in the middle two quarters. Let’s hope those fourth quarter buckets can get his confidence on track, he can discover some spryness and White can deliver in Game 6. 
Grade: D+
Summary: White had a subdued night, to put it kindly. 

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Bryn Forbes

Bryn Forbes hit a three-pointer less than two minutes into the game … and that was about all she wrote. His shot-selection was iffy and he couldn’t create anything of value off the dribble. Defensively, he didn’t play too well, either, as Gary Harris easily and efficiently won the battle of the shooting guard Spartans. The Spurs desperately needed someone like Forbes to have a breakout offensive performance … but it didn’t happen. 
Grade: D+
Summary: Forbes will want to forget Tuesday night. 

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Jakob Poeltl

Mr. Sole Bright Spot, also known as Jakob Poeltl, played pretty darn well. I don’t have any complaints. On offense, he extended his repertoire by way of floaters and drives to the bucket when the Spurs were begging for someone, anyone to produce. His patience and savviness when passing the basketball was extremely helpful; Poeltl was playing like the wily vet who was trying to conduct an offense overflowing with youthful bewilderment. (Though, it’s probably not a good sign when Poeltl has double the number of assists as anyone else on your team, to be honest.) Defensively, he was strong against Nikola Jokic. Poeltl kept a hand up on his jumpers, guarded him physically in the paint and flailed his long arms in the passing lanes. His help-defense and rebounding were also at high levels. Well done. 
Grade: A
Summary: Poeltl came to play and continues to paint an increasingly pretty picture of his future. 

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Marco Belinelli

Marco Belinelli wasn’t exactly good but he was much, much closer to it than any of the previous four games. His shot-selection was fine, although he did hesitate on a few open jumpers. His defense wasn’t an asset but it also wasn’t the blinding liability it was in the previous games against the Nuggets. Belinelli made a couple good passes and competed reasonably well. All that said, the Spurs need him to actually put together a quality game before this series ends rather than simply a not-terrible game like tonight. 
Grade: C
Summary: Belinelli bounced back a bit but there’s still plenty of room for recovery. 

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Patty Mills

With White in foul trouble and struggling, it was the perfect opportunity for Patty Mills to flex some of his veteran moxie and lead the Spurs to an inspiring performance inside the lion’s den. And he did just that. Just kidding. Mills was bad. Defensively, he drew an offensive foul and had a couple well-timed digs into the post but otherwise he was routinely roasted by Denver’s guards. Jamal Murray told his teammates that Mills couldn’t guard him and, unfortunately, he was right. Offensively, he hit his second three-pointer of the series but otherwise tossed up bricks, dribbled a lot and didn’t make many plays of note. I mean, Mills was efforting but that effort needs to result in more positive plays for him to have a winning impact on this squad. 
Grade: D+
Summary: Mills failed to step up when it was needed. 

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Rudy Gay

Rudy Gay was hoping for redemption in Game 5. It never arrived. In the first half, he was really bad. He struggled on defense and on the boards. On offense, everything came to a halt when he was on the court. Gay was trying to call his own number and the only thing that succeeded in doing was to break the team’s fragile offensive rhythm. Two smidgens of good news: When he looked to dish the ball, Gay actually delivered a few fantastic passes. Gay hit two shots in a row in the third quarter and looked a little bit more comfortable in the second half in terms of attacking mismatches. 
Grade: D+
Summary: Gay’s nightmarish series moves on to Game 6. 

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Davis Bertans

Davis Bertans hit a meaningless three-pointer late in the fourth quarter. Considering that’s only his third made three of the series, it was good for him to see that he can indeed still make those shots. There were not many positives to report for the rest of Bertans’ 17 minutes. He forgot to jump for a couple rebounds, his dribbling usually led nowhere and his defense out on the perimeter made Belinelli look fleet of foot by comparison. 
Grade: D+
Summary: Bertans made a three-pointer. 

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Lonnie Walker IV

Lonnie Walker IV played the entire fourth quarter of garbage time. Considering that Pop might turn to him in Game 6, I paid extra close attention to how he played. Overall, I was impressed. On defense, he has the athleticism to stay in front of Denver’s perimeter players. He’s fast enough and jumps high enough to contest shooters, even if he has to travel a long distance. He was physical boxing out. On offense, Walker’s ball-handling and dribble-penetration opened up opportunities for others. At the very least, it gave the Spurs another player capable of potentially breaking down the Nuggets defense. 
Grade: Inc.
Summary: Is Walker ready? With desperation setting it, let’s hope he can help in a pinch.

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Pop

I didn’t think the Spurs needed to make wholesale changes heading into Game 5 but Pop took that to an extreme. He leaned even more heavily on his bench in the first half despite the fact that the bench has been horrible this series. If anything, I thought the bench should play less … but Pop went the opposite direction. I didn’t see any button-pushing of note: similar rotation, similar playcalls on offense, similar gameplan on defense. While that was probably the right move going into the game, when things were falling apart around him, it would have been nice for Pop to try something. Instead, he peacefully sank with the ship that got him there. 
Grade: C-
Summary: Pop’s strategy entering the game made sense but he didn’t appear interested in making any midgame adjustments. 

Looking ahead: The Spurs try to stay alive in Game 6. With the momentum the Nuggets have gained over the last two contests, that promises to be a tall order. However, the Spurs have been a good home team, the Nuggets were a mediocre road team and San Antonio is due for a hot shooting night, right? Let us hope.

LJ Ellis