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, April 18, 8 p.m.
Game 4: Nuggets at Spurs, Saturday, April 20, 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)
Before leaving for Denver on Friday, the Spurs said the playoffs are different than the regular season.
The Silver and Black went out and proved that Saturday night, pulling out a gritty 101-96 victory over the Nuggets in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series at the Pepsi Center.
Seeded seventh in the West, the Spurs became the third lower seed to win on the opening day of the NBA playoffs.
No. 2 seed Denver was an NBA-best 34-7 at home during the regular season, and San Antonio (16-25) had the worst road record of the conference's eight playoff teams. The Silver and Black were blown out by 28 points the last time they played in Denver, but that mattered little in Game 1.
Down 97-96, the Nuggets missed a chance to go ahead when guard Jamal Murray missed a mid-rangejumper with 9.4 seconds left. LaMarcus Aldridge rebounded and was fouled. He made both free throws to put the Spurs up 99-96 with 6.9 seconds remaining.
Point guard Derrick White sealed the victory when he stole the ball from Murray at midcourt. Murray fouled White, sending him to the free-throw line with 1.3 seconds left. White coolly sank both free throws to end the scoring.
"I was just trying to make a play," White said. "If I don't get the steal, I foul him. So, either way, it was good. I was lucky to get the steal."
White, who made his first playoff start, scored 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting and added five assists and the critical steal. He played a key role on the defensive end, helping hold Murray to 17 points on 8-of-24 shooting. Murray finished 0 of 6 from the three-point line.
"Definitely a big win for us," White said. "It was a battle for 48 minutes. We knew that it was going to be tough, especially here on the road."
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.
White was whistled for two fouls in the first 2:22 of the game, but he settled down and took another big step in his development.
"I probably started the game off a little too excited," White said. "I started fouling and just running around. But after I settled down, just played another game."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich didn't hold back in his praise of White, a second-year pro who took over the point-guard position after starter Dejounte Murray sustained a season-ending knee injury in the preseason.
"He was spectacular," Popovich said. "For someone who got put in that position, and to learn that position with a bunch of new players, is really remarkable that he's done what he's done. So, hopefully he'll continue to play that way because it's going to be a long series."
Game 2 is at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Denver. The series shifts to San Antonio for Games 3 and 4. Game 3 is set for Thursday at 8 p.m.
With the win Saturday night, Popovich became the all-time leader in NBA coaching victories, including playoffs, with 1,413. He moved past Lenny Wilkens, who is in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
DeMar DeRozan led the Spurs' scoring with 18 points. Aldridge (15), Bryn Forbes (15) and Rudy Gay (14) rounded out San Antonio's double-figure scoring. Gay, who scored 10 of his 14 points in the second quarter, made 6 of 9 shots, including 2 of 3 from the three-point line, and had six rebounds.
Forbes also stepped up in his first playoff start, scoring his 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting and making 3 of 4 three-pointers. He also finished with five rebounds.
San Antonio and Denver split four games during the regular season, with the home team winning each time. The Silver and Black were blown out by 28 in their last game against the Nuggets on April 3.
In the playoffs for the first time in six years, Denver was brimming with confidence after going 54-28 and clinching the No. 2 seed on the final day of the regular season. The youngest team in the NBA, the Nuggets were favored over San Antonio, which advanced to the postseason for the 22nd consecutive year, tying an NBA record.
True to form, the Silver and Black carved out the victory with the efficiency of an experienced team. They shot 42 percent (37-88) from the field for the game and were 46.7 percent (7-15) from beyond the arc. Defensively, the Spurs played with a sense of urgency.
Gary Harris and Murray topped Denver's scoring with 20 and 17 points, respectively. Center Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets' leading scorer during the regular season, finished with only 10 points. But he still recorded a triple-double, adding 14 rebounds and 14 assists.
Will Barton (15), Paul Millsap (12) and Malik Beasley (10) rounded out Denver's double-figure scoring.
Denver hit 37 of 88 field-goal attempts for 42 percent and was 21.4 percent (6-28) from the three-point line.
Up by eight at the half, the Silver and Black led 72-68 heading into the fourth quarter. San Antonio extended its halftime lead to 12 in the third quarter before the Nuggets started chipping away at the deficit. The Spurs went cold in the third quarter, making only 6 of 22 field-goal attempts.
The Silver and Black led 59-51 in the first half after shooting 54.5 percent overall (24-44) and 50 percent (5-10) from the three-point line.
San Antonio had four players finish with double-figure scoring in the first half, led by Gay, who had 12 points and was 2 of 3 from beyond the arc. DeRozan (11), Forbes (10) and White (10) also were in double figures at the break. Forbes was 2 of 2 from the three-point line.
Aldridge sat out the last 6:37 of the half after picking up his third foul. White was whistled for two fouls in the first 2:22 of the game, but returned in the second quarter and was a key factor in the Spurs' push to take a 12-point lead.
Barton and Murray led the Nuggets' first-half scoring with 10 points. Jokic had only four points, but he finished the half with seven rebounds and nine assists.
Denver shot 42.6 overall from the field (20-47) and 15.4 percent (2-13) from beyond the arc in the first two quarters.