Spurs-Denver Nuggets first-round playoff series at a glance
(Spurs lead best-of-seven series 1-0)
Game 1: Spurs 101, Nuggets 96, Saturday, Denver
Game 2: Spurs at Nuggets, Tuesday, 8 p.m.
Game 3: Nuggets at Spurs, Thursday, 8 p.m.
Game 4: Nuggets at Spurs, Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
Game 5*: Spurs at Nuggets, Tuesday, April 23, TBD
Game 6*: Nuggets at Spurs, Thursday, April 25, TBD
Game 7*: Spurs at Nuggets, Saturday, April 27, TBD
* If necessary
(All times central)
Contrary to reports, the Spurs didn’t “steal” Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series Saturday night in Denver.
Exuding a quiet confidence, the Silver and Black walked on the court at the Pepsi Center and played like they owned the place in a 101-96 victory over the Nuggets, who finished the regular season a league-best 34-7 at home.
The Spurs had the worst road record (16-25) among the West’s eight playoff teams, and were blown out by 28 points in their previous game at Denver on April 3.
But San Antonio hit big shots Saturday night, played solid defense and got key contributions from two players making their first playoff starts, point guard Derrick White and guard Bryn Forbes, to win a postseason game on the road.
As they prepare for Game 2 on Tuesday in Denver, the Silver and Black aren’t kidding themselves about the challenge they’ll face against a Nuggets team determined to even the series before it heads to San Antonio.
“We’re happy with this win but we knew the job isn’t done,” White said. “We have three more to go.”
Asked whether the victory in Game 1 takes some pressure off the Silver and Black, White said: “I don’t know if it takes any pressure off us because we still have to get four. We’re going to enjoy it for a little bit and then we’ve got to be ready to go after Game 2.”
Forbes expressed the same sentiments after Game 1.
“It’s a big game, a big win that we needed,” he said. “The job isn’t even close to done, so we’re not too proud of ourselves or anything like that. It’s a step forward in the right direction and we’re ready to get going for Game 2.
Still, for one night at least, the Spurs showed they can win a playoff game on the road. And that’s got to be a confidence booster for a team that struggled to win consistently in opponents’ arenas this season.
DeMar DeRozan scored 18 points to lead five San Antonio players in double figures, White (16), Forbes (15), LaMarcus Aldridge (15) and Rudy Gay (14) pitched in to give the Spurs’ offense balanced scoring.
Gay, who scored 10 of his 14 points in the second quarter when San Antonio went up by 12, made 6 of 9 shots, including 2 of 3 from the three-point line. He also had six rebounds.
A third-year pro, Forbes was a model of efficiency, scoring his 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting and making 3 of 4 three-pointers. He also finished with five rebounds.
But the biggest star for the Spurs was White, whose performance was described as “spectacular” by coach Gregg Popovich. White had two of the game’s highlights, scoring on a monster dunk over Denver forward Paul Millsap and coming up with a steal that sealed the victory for San Antonio.
White stole the ball from Denver guard Jamal Murray with 1.3 seconds left, and hit both free throws to end the scoring after getting fouled immediately by Murray. It was redemption for White who lost the ball to Murray with 1:09 left and the Spurs clinging to a 97-96 lead. Murray missed a three-pointer with 57.7 left and a shot inside the free-throw line went off the rim with 9.4 seconds remaining.
“Our coaching staff does a hell of a job of understanding that if you make a mistake, don’t let that get you down,” DeRozan said, noting how White made a big play after committing a turnover. “Keep going, keep going, keep pushing. Make up for that mistake by doing something great the next play. We’ve all been instilled with that all season. Tonight that came into play and we just kept playing.”
White scored 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting and added five assists and the critical steal. He also played a key role on the defensive end of the court, helping hold Murray, Denver’s second-leading scorer, to 17 points on 8-of-24 shooting. Murray finished 0 of 6 from the three-point line.
“He’s tough,” White said of Murray. “Him and (Nikola) Jokic move well together with the ball, so I just tried to make it tough by standing in the rear view and stuff like that and guys just build off of it.”
Jokic, the Nuggets’ leading scorer during the regular season with a 20.1 average, had only 10 points in Game 1, but he finished with 14 rebounds and 14 assists to record a triple-double. Denver was 16-0 when Jokic gets a triple-double at home.
White, who is in his second NBA season, was asked about the poise he and Forbes demonstrated in their first playoff starts.
“We’re just competitors,” White said. “We just try to go out there and compete each time. Bryn was huge, hit some big threes. Started us off real strong. Good first win and we’re just going to keep learning from this.”
The game was a homecoming for White, who grew up in Parker, Colo., about 35 miles south of Denver. He also played at the University of Colorado for one season before getting drafted by the Spurs in 2017.
DeRozan, who also led the Spurs with 12 rebounds and six assists, lauded White.
“Derrick White has been great all year,” DeRozan said. “Seeing his progress from the beginning, once Dejounte (Murray) went down. You see the progress every single day, every single week, every single month. And to be here, in the big moments, and see how he steps up . . . It was a work in progress. We’ve seen it from the start. He comes up big.”
Led by Gay, the Spurs’ bench outscored the Nuggets’ reserves 31-22.
“They came up big,” DeRozan said of the team’s backups. “Rudy came in, especially in the first half, came through big for us. Hit some big threes, got us going. Overall, everybody came out and did their part. That’s what we need. We understand we can do a lot better on both ends come next game.”