Spurs-Denver Nuggets first-round playoff series at a glance
(Spurs lead series 2-1)
Game 1: Spurs 101, Nuggets 96, Saturday, Denver
Game 2: Nuggets 114, Spurs 105, Tuesday, Denver
Game 3: Spurs 118, Nuggets 108, Thursday, San Antonio
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)
SAN ANTONIO – Spurs point guard Derrick White had some kind of coming-out party Thursday night at the AT&T Center.
Unfortunately for the Denver Nuggets, they were invited and had to watch White make big play after big play on both ends of the court at their expense.
White knocked down 15 of 21 shots and finished with a career-high 36 points, leading the Silver and Black to a 118-108 win over the Nuggets in Game 3 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series.
Bouncing back from a 114-105 loss in Game 2 on Tuesday night in Denver, San Antonio took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Game 4 is at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the AT&T Center, where the Nuggets have now lost 14 straight. Denver hasn't beaten the Silver and Black in the Alamo City since March 4, 2012, when White was a 17-year-old senior at Legend High School in Parker, Colo., about 25 miles southeast of Denver.
White pretty much had his way with the Nuggets, hurting them with his jumper and getting to the rim consistently for baskets.
"I was just trying to be aggressive and trying to get to the paint," White said. "I know a lot of times they try to bluff and get back, so I just tried to finish strong when I was driving to the paint and make the right play."
White is the first NBA player to have 35+ points in one of his first three career playoff starts since Isaiah Thomas had 42 for the Celtics in 2016.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich didn't quite know what to say when he was asked about White's stellar game.
"Well, he's OK," Popovich said. "I have to answer that question? You were at the game, right? He was obviously spectacular at both ends of the floor. I don't know what else to say."
Denver coach Mike Malone also heaped praise on White, a second-year pro who spent most of his rookie season playing for the Spurs' G League team in Austin.
"We couldn't stop him," Malone said. "He was impressive. From jump street, he attacked, he got wherever he wanted and he finished. He was into us defensively. That was a hell of a performance for a young player."
White got off to a fast start offensively, scoring 26 of his 36 points in the first half and making 11 of 15 field-goal attempts. His 26 points at the half tied his previous career high.
Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan finished with 25 points and LaMarcus Aldridge had a double-double, finishing with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Rudy Gay recorded his first career playoff double-double, scoring 11 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
Jakob Poeltl (10) and Bryn Forbes (10) rounded out San Antonio's double-figure scoring. DeRozan and White each finished with three steals.
The Silver and Black outrebounded the Nuggets 45-37 and finished with a 15-10 edge on the offensive boards. Poeltl had seven rebounds, five on the offensive glass. Poeltl has nine offensive rebounds in the last two games.
"Jakob is one of those utility infielders in baseball," Popovich said. "He can do everything. At the defensive end, he is looking to rebound. On the offensive end, he is looking to rebound. He runs the floor, he sets good picks, he is unselfish and he is getting better and better offensively, as the guys work with him."
The Spurs owned the paint in Game 3, outscoring the Nuggets 62-42. San Antonio also finished with an 18-10 edge in second-chance points and outscored Denver 21-19 in fast-break points.
Denver lost despite shooting 51.9 percent overall (42-81) and 51.7 percent (15-29) from the three-point linel. San Antonio was 49.4 percent from the field (44-89), and made 7 of 18 three-pointers for 38.9 percent.
Nikola Jokic and Malik Beasley led the Nuggets' scoring with 22 and 20 points, respectively. Jokic also had eight rebounds and seven assists.
Jamal Murray, the star of Game 2, finished with only six points on 2-of-6 shooting. Both of his baskets came on three-pointers.
Guarded primarily by White, Murray struggled to get good looks at the basket. Such was not the case in the fourth quarter of Game 2, when he went off for 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting and sparked Denver's comeback from a 19-point, third-quarter deficit. White did most of his damage while guarded by White.
White left no doubt that he felt extra motivation going into Game 3.
"I feel like a lot of those were on me, so I had to step up and make him work today," White said. "It was great team defense. We are going to have to continue to improve on it throughout the series."
DeRozan liked the way White responded to the challenge.
"It was awesome, especially defensively" DeRozan said. "He came through big. He took on a challenge from last game versus Murray, got us going and we fed off him. He us offensively and defensively."
Paul Millsap (14), Gary Harris (12), Torrey Craig (12) and Monte Morris (10) completed Denver's double-digit scoring.
Up by three at the half, the Spurs took an 88-84 lead into the fourth quarter. DeRozan, who had only four points in the first half, scored 19 on 7-of-9 shooting in the third quarter to fuel the Silver and Black offense.
"Yeah, you know I just knew it was going to come," DeRozan said of his offense. "I just had to continue to be aggressive. I never worry about my scoring.
"As long as there is time on the clock, I always know I can get it going in a short period of time. You know it was just me trying to be aggressive and push the lead up."
Sparked by White's 26 points, the Silver and Black led 61-58 at the half. White scored 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the second period, and ended the quarter with a steal and a fast-break dunk with 10 seconds left.
The Spurs were up 31-22 after one quarter, but the Nuggets roared back with a 16-0 run to go up 38-31 with nine minutes left in the second period. Denver extended the lead to 10 points before San Antonio started to chip away at the deficit.
The Spurs regained the lead, 53-22, on a White layup that capped a 13-2 run with 2:38 left in the half.
Aldridge (10) was the only other San Antonio player scoring in double figures in the first two quarters.
Millsap and Jokic had 11 points apiece to lead the Nuggets' first-half scoring. Denver shot 51.2 percent overall (22-43) and 50 percent (8-16) from the three-point line in the first half.
San Antonio shot 44.7 percent (21-47) from the field in the first quarter and was 4 of 10 from long distance for 40 percent.