Denver Nuggets: Home altitude brings comeback attitude

NBA Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
NBA Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

Down 23 on their homecourt, the Denver Nuggets rallied against the fundamentally sound San Antonio Spurs in Monday night’s statement win. It came down to well-timed adjustments, bench production, and determination.

With 6:47 left in the 3rd quarter, former Denver Nuggets forward Trey Lyles catches a no-look pass from LaMarcus Aldridge and drains a 3-point attempt just shy of the line.

An almost-exhausted sigh rises from the crowd, the only excitement in the building comes from the Spurs’ bench, highlighted by the reserves leaping in joy around a beige-suited assistant coach Tim Duncan.

Four timeouts left for San Antonio to Denver’s 3, coach Gregg Popovich has the ability to halt any hope of a Nuggets comeback should they choose to attempt it.

Upon five quick points from Denver, topped by a slow-motion Nikola Jokic fadeaway over Aldridge, Popovich calls time. Adjustments be damned, the Nuggets persist, resorting to an offensive scheme cleverly centered around some traditional basketball.

Paul Millsap post-ups, at-the-rim looks for Jokic, mid-range jumpers for Monte Morris, all instrumental in cutting the lead to just seven with a key defensive stop giving the Nuggets a chance at a shot to end the quarter. An untimely turnover for Aldridge in the post leads to a fastbreak opportunity for Monte Morris, which he uses to take and make a buzzer-beating 3.

Heading into the final frame trailing by only four, Denver played an impressive and efficient quarter.

Turnovers: Denver 0-2 San Antonio

Fouls: Denver 5-5 San Antonio

FG%: Denver 56-40 San Antonio

3P%: Denver 60-33 San Antonio

Points: Denver 38-27 San Antonio

With the help of Jamal Murray playing all-but 19 seconds of the quarter, making two heat-check 3’s, the Nuggets completed the comeback. Taking the lead with five minutes left in the game, Denver never conceded their positive margin. Those last five minutes constituted 90 percent of Denver’s time leading San Antonio.

In all reality, both teams played good games, shooting efficiently, passing at the same rate, the two were nearly identical. What separated Denver and San Antonio was Denver’s decisive presence on the interior defensively, and even that was slim.

Denver rejected five shots to San Antonio’s 1, but it was the timing of Denver’s rim-protection that made the difference. Jerami Grant and Torrey Craig sent back two San Antonio field-goal attempts within 70 seconds of one another, helping Denver gain the traction necessary to take the lead.

In what was an irregular game for Gregg Popovich, the Spurs failed to address the issues that reared their heads late-game, and allowed for Denver to do what they do best; run offense from the post. Nikola Jokic, in his deliberately lethargic style, was able to hit shots or find teammates at the right time. With no true center beyond Jakob Poeltl, the Spurs had difficulty contesting Jokic’s post-centric game.

San Antonio is 2-13 when they concede more than 120 points, so while many teams in today’s game looking to simply outscore their opponent, it is clear that San Antonio’s success is bounded in defense.

The one statistic that separated the two teams was their bench-production. Denver’s bench bested San Antonio’s easily, notching a 151 Offensive Rating and 126 Defensive Rating to the Spurs’ 114 Offensive Rating and 141 Defensive Rating. Plain and simple, Denver has the depth to maintain a sound presence on both ends of the court when their starters come off and San Antonio does not, something that will prove to be extremely valuable come the postseason.

light. Must Read. After the return of Victor Oladipo, patience is key

Sitting comfortably as a top-3 seed in the NBA’s Western Conference, Denver continues to impress with their offensive prowess. Looking to solidify their spot as 2nd in the West, the Denver Nuggets play the second half of a two-game homestand against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday at Pepsi Center.