In a game that went down to the wire, the seventh seeded Spurs were able to begin the 2019 NBA playoffs on the right foot with a 101-96 victory over the Nuggets in Denver. Neither team played exceedingly well — in fact, there were stretches where James Naismith could be heard rustling around in his grave — but the Spurs were able to make get key defensive stops down the stretch to seal the win.
Well done. It wasn’t pretty but it was a great way for the good guys to start the postseason.
LaMarcus Aldridge C-
While Aldridge’s effort level was satisfactory, he struggled mightily on the offensive end. Nikola Jokic was allowed to belly Aldridge and that kept the Spurs bigman out of rhythm. His fadeaway jumpers were off, as his touch was coarse in most facets. Defensively, Aldridge was good against Jokic, guarded the perimeter better than usual and supplied sufficient help. That said, his defensive rebounding left a lot to be desired … though he did corral a key one late.
DeMar DeRozan C-
The good: DeRozan was great on the defensive boards. He pulled down a handful of contested boards and was also boxing out with vinegar in his veins. The rest of his defensive work was also better than usual, save for a couple intermittent mistakes in rotation. DeRozan got to the free throw line six times in the first half, which helped set the tone for San Antonio. His playmaking at times was very help — for example, when he setup Bertans’ momentous fourth quarter three-pointer. The bad: As feared, DeRozan tried to do too much on offense, especially as the game progressed. He compounded that issue by settling more and more for tough jumpers as contest went along. As a result, his efficiency was poor and he was more of a liability down the stretch than an asset. That said, he seemed to realize the error of his ways before it was too late and shared just enough before the situation became irreparable.
Derrick White A-
Early on, White looked every bit like an inexperienced youngster who’s basically in his rookie season. His decision-making was shaky and he committed two bad fouls, which is certainly uncharacteristic for him. Thankfully, White eventually settled in and posted an otherwise outstanding performance. He grew patient on offense, took smart shots, created opportunities for teammates and ran the offense decently well. On defense, after those two early fouls, he was really good. He harassed Jamal Murray into a disastrous night (17 points on 24 shots to go along with zero assists for Denver’s starting point guard). White’s steal with less than five seconds remaining iced the game for San Antonio. Oh, and that third quarter dunk was pretty cool, too.
Bryn Forbes A
Apparently, Forbes’ strong end to the regular season wasn’t a fluke. To begin the playoffs, his swagger and confidence was palpable from the opening tip. Forbes made big shots for San Antonio — both of the catch-and-shoot variety and off of inventive forays to the rim. I also thought Forbes was good on defense. He overplayed his man a few times but was otherwise physical in one-on-one situations, his feet were quick enough and his team-defense rotations were swift. The cherry on top was Forbes’ hard work on the defensive glass, which the Spurs desperately needed.
Jakob Poeltl B+
There was nothing too fancy out of Poeltl but the starting center was rock solid. He came out a little bit antsy on defense but he eventually settled in and was a source of strength on that end during the final three quarters. I especially liked his smarts when defending the post and the couple contested defensive boards he ripped down with aggression. On offense, Poeltl got in the way sometimes but he also set the best screens on the team and flashed enough variety to his game to force the Nuggets to account for him even if he was away from the basket.
Rudy Gay C+
Gay was fantastic in the second quarter. He got the Spurs going and helped ignite San Antonio’s best offensive quarter. When he wasn’t knocking down three-pointers, he was taking his time to overwhelm smaller defenders or driving past larger defenders. The rest of the game, though, wasn’t nearly as beautiful for Gay. While I give him credit for bringing enough physicality to the game to match Millsap’s ruggedness under the rim, it was difficult for Gay to hold his ground against the burly Nuggets — and especially difficult for him to pull down (and safeguard) rebounds. Offensively, outside of the second quarter, Gay didn’t provide much tangible help.
Patty Mills B-
I liked Patty Mills’ vivacity on defense. He was chasing his man around screens and played tight man defense. However, his lack of size definitely was a factor, as the Nuggets were able to attack him by simply going up and over the Australian. Offensively, he dribbled too much, tossed ill-advised passes and took a couple questionable shots. Despite Mills’ iffy decisions, things tended to work out for him tonight: he made two of those questionable shots, finished without a turnover and successfully pushed the pace.
Davis Bertans C+
To begin the night, Bertans was getting abused by Denver’s bigs. They were simply bumping him out of the way and the Latvian wasn’t putting up much of a fight. Thankfully, Bertans eventually located his cojones and fought back. By the night’s end, he had a definite positive impact on the victory. On offense, he hit a key three-pointer with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth to put the Spurs up by six. He also had a key play in the fourth where he utilized his burgeoning ball-handling acuity to spoon feed a bucket for Poeltl. On defense, his boxing out got better and better — and Bertans even altered shots at key moments, at the rim and out on the perimeter.
Marco Belinelli B
Belinelli looked injured to end the regular season. The good news is it appears he regained his health in time for the postseason. He was moving well again — and even successfully drove the ball to the basket a couple times. Belinelli’s activity on and off the bell helped spark the offense and give life to the bench unit. Defensively, I’d classify his work as above average — relatively speaking, of course. He did a reasonably good job of keeping ball-handlers in front of him and was better than usual on the glass.
I’m glad Pop started Poeltl and went with the rotation that was the team’s best over the second half of the regular season. The confidence he showed in White, Forbes and Poeltl was key to the win. Pop did concern me at times when he leaned on Mills too much but that ended up not hurting the Spurs. He also could have done more to get Aldridge in the low block and stop DeRozan from engaging hero mode … but Pop pushed enough right buttons to help San Antonio begin the playoffs with a win. He had multiple effective plays out of timeouts and his overall gameplan was very strong.