Random Thoughts Before Game 7: Spurs @ Nuggets, 2019 NBA Playoffs

-I’m not sure there are any additional defensive adjustments the Spurs can make heading into Game 7. It might be tempting to send more double-team help at Nikola Jokic after his monster Game 6, however it’d be risky giving their three-point shooters open looks early on at home — that could be a recipe for a large first quarter deficit. I think the better idea is to play Jokic as straight up as possible and if he beats you scoring 40-plus points, you tip your hat and head to an island in the Caribbean.

-That Jokic and Jamal Murray pick-and-roll has been close to impossible for the Spurs to stop … but there’s not much else San Antonio can do. If they go under the screen, Murray will feast on three-pointers. If they send help, either Murray or Jokic will get the ball to the hands of a three-point shooter. Best bet, again, is to make those two guys finish contested shots in the lane. I’d be different if the Spurs had talented, multipurpose defenders but that’s not the case.

-Offensively, I think getting LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan shots in the lane early and often will be key. Not only to get high quality shots, but to also try pile fouls on the Nuggets and try to get to the free throw line. Jokic getting in foul trouble would be a game-changer, obviously. And since the Spurs really can’t count on an explosion from their role playing three-point shooters, attempting north of 30 free throws would be extremely helpful. 

-For the Spurs to win the game, I imagine both Aldridge and DeRozan are going to have to score more than 25 points. On top of that, they’ll need either Derrick White or Rudy Gay to go along for the ride. White finding lanes to the rim like he did in Game 3 or Gay exploiting mismatches like he did in Game 6 would be momentous for the good guys. 

-If a shooter is going to get hot, you’d think it’d be a veteran like Marco Belinelli or Patty Mills. Honestly, though, I don’t have much faith in Mills being the man to get it going. Not only has he been missing, he’s had inconsistent rotation on his shots — and that tells me his wrapped shooting thumb is part of the problem. Belinelli? It’d be great timing for him to go off for 15-plus points. Bryn Forbes has been the team’s most reliable sharpshooter this series but considering confidence has been an issue in his young career, I’d be hesitant to lean on him in a Game 7 situation.

-In the fourth quarter of a close game, DeRozan’s ability to create shots for himself will be really useful. Yes, there will be the risk that the offense stalls if DeRozan goes too far down the hero-mode trail, but a Game 7 on the road is when you’re glad you have a creator of DeRozan’s ilk leading your team.

-Speaking of which, let’s remember what happened the last time the Spurs were able to win a Game 7 on the road. Back in 2008 versus the Hornets, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were a combined 0-for-12 in the contest’s final 19 minutes. But, thankfully, Tony Parker was able to muster enough offense on his own to pull off the victory. He had all but one of the team’s baskets in the fourth quarter, including the clincher with 50 seconds remaining. (The other basket in the fourth: a three-pointer by Ime Udoka.) I can see a similar situation playing out tonight, in that DeRozan’s ability to carry the load the down the stretch will determine whether the Spurs win or lose.

-A lot is being made about Denver’s youth but I don’t see that being too big of a deal. If the game was in San Antonio then, yeah, maybe the youngsters could shrivel in the spotlight. But they’ll be at home where they’ve been the best home team in the NBA this season. The bigger hope for the Spurs is that the Nuggets streaky three-point shooters have an off game.

-I’m excited to see how the Spurs play. They’ve been such a Jekyll and Hyde team this season that it’s impossible to know what to expect. We’ve seen them play as well as any team in the league and then days later look inept against an actively tanking franchise. But if they play with the appropriate amount of energy in Game 7 and realize they’re basically playing with house money at this point, I think they have at least a coinflip’s chance at being the only team in the NBA to pull off a first round upset this year.

LJ Ellis