Expect a better and more representative showing from the Denver Nuggets on Saturday when they square off against the San Antonio Spurs in the second of a two-games-in-three-days mini-series in the Alamo City.
The Spurs beat Denver 123-111 on Thursday in a game that was the second of a road back-to-back for the Nuggets and the sixth of a seven-game, 13-day stint away from home.
The toll of playing on consecutive nights in New Orleans (where the Nuggets had to work overtime to beat the Pelicans) and then in San Antonio was evident throughout the loss on Thursday, when the Spurs won every quarter and dominated the hustle stats (second-chance points, offensive rebounds and fast-break points).
“(We were) a little sloppy — three or four turnovers in five or six possessions there for a period of time — but the defense held up,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said afterward. “That allowed us to continue to play well. Turnovers on one end and not playing (defense) would’ve been a bad combo, but we avoided that. Thrilled with 32 assists. That’s really great stuff.”
Derrick White poured in 23 points and Lonnie Walker IV added 21 off the bench for San Antonio Spurs, who led throughout and never let the Nuggets get closer than five points in the fourth quarter.
Dejounte Murray added 20 points for the Spurs, with Doug McDermott hitting for 17 and Drew Eubanks scoring 14 points in the win, which snapped the Spurs’ two-game losing streak.
“Derrick was stupendous (against the Nuggets),” Popovich said. “He was special tonight in a lot of different ways. Made a lot of good decisions, a lot of good basketball plays that help you win. He was wonderful.”
Keldon Johnson missed the game for San Antonio after he sprained his right ankle on Tuesday against New York.
It wasn’t a lack of effort that foiled the Nuggets on Thursday — San Antonio shot the ball well, especially from the perimeter where Denver’s defense was suspect at best.
“They had us on our heels,” Denver coach Mike Malone said. “Man, that’s the worst feeling in the world. We made a couple of runs to try to get back in the game a little bit, but we just couldn’t sustain anything.”
Denver’s Nikola Jokic had 22 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in Thursday’s loss, recording his third consecutive triple-double and his fifth in 20 games this season. Popovich called Jokic the head of the Nuggets’ snake.
“To be a clutch player, you can never get rattled, you can never get rushed and hurried,” Malone said. “And I think Nikola is the definition of that.”
Aaron Gordon led all scorers with 25 points, Will Barton added 19 and Monte Morris and Facundo Campazzo had 13 and 12 points, respectively, for the Nuggets, which are 3-3 on the road trip heading into its final game.
“They were shooting 3s really good, and they were living in our paint, so we need to at least pick one (to defend),” Jokic said of the Spurs after the loss.
The Nuggets were without Austin Rivers, who sat out for the fifth straight game because of health and safety protocols.