The Nuggets understand rsquo & they;re the better team. It took them until Game 5 to establish it.
Sooner or later, their confidence was likely to overwhelm. That flooding came in the shape of an 108-90 rout of San Antonio on Tuesday night at the Pepsi Center, giving the Nuggets a controlling 3-2 lead in their first-round playoff series. Denver drilled the Spurs so convincingly that it wouldn’t be shocking if this show didn’t return home for a Game 7.
In any event, the pounding put the Nuggets on the verge of their first playoff series victory.
“I think we’ve grown up a lot since Game 1,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
Nikola Jokic again flirted with a triple-double, his 16 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists pacing a well-oiled offense that flowed freely and effortlessly.
“I expect in this playoff crowd, this TV audience, that people are tuning in and watching us and saying, ‘Man, this kid Nikola Jokic is for real,’” Malone said. “We know this, and I think it’s about time everyone else started to realize it. ”
Jokic got immense help from sidekick Jamal Murray, who poured in 23 points and dished seven assists. He also Gary Harris combined for seven of the Nuggets’ 14 3-pointers.
Harris, with his college coach Tom Izzo in the stands, played with outstanding basketball that was two-way. The Nuggets’ other defensive stopper, Torrey Craig, helped limit Spurs star DeMar DeRozan to only 6-of-15 shooting from the field. DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge combined for 34 points.
The Nuggets danced and pranced and bellowed to the crowd as their lead exploded into 28 points in the third quarter. Murray continued his assault with two 3-pointers and a few catastrophic step-back jumpers while the Nuggets tightened the screws on the defensive end. Denver outscored the Spurs 32-21 after Jokic canned back-to-back 3-pointers to close the quarter. The Nuggets entered the quarter up 85-63 as the chance at a match came into focus.
This was the only one that stood at 2-2 heading into Game 5. From a big-picture standpoint, Malone didn’t think it was always a bad thing.
“You never want anything easy, and it’s not as easy in the playoffs,” Malone said. “San Antonio, let’forget about numbers and seeds, they’re going to give you a (good ) challenge regardless of what seed they are. … And we’re young. You have the playoff team in NBA history going against a team, it’s going to be a great challenge. I love how rsquo we & responded. ”
Nuggets-Spurs series schedule
Game 1: San Antonio 101, Denver 96
Game 2: Denver 114, San Antonio 105
Game 3: San Antonio 118, Denver 108
Game 4: Denver 117, San Antonio 103
Game 5: Denver 108, San Antonio 90
Game 6: Denver at San Antonio, 6 p.m. Thursday, TNT/ALT
*Game 7: San Antonio at Denver, TBD April 27, TNT
* If necessary
The postseason pressure has not been handled by any one quite like Jokic, who flirted with triple-double averages heading into Tuesday night. He got another round of “M-V-P” chants midway.
“He’s never fazed,” Malone stated, while lauding his effort on both ends. “Then you look at Jamal Murray, another young player, first-time playoff debut. And I think for any player, consistency is the greatest challenge. In our (first) two wins, Jamal’s numbers are off the charts. In our two losses, they aren’t. That’s the greatest challenge for any player. What’s remarkable about Nikola is that he has that consistency. ”
Throughout the majority of the past week and a half, Jokic seemed as carefree as if the Nuggets were in training camp in San Diego. Whether it’s been outside or in media sessions that are relaxed at team dinners on the road, Jokic has seemed to genuinely enjoy this ride. But that hasn’t been his favorite part.
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“When we’re winning,” Jokic said. “That feeling… particularly when we’re home and the fans are on our side or we’re there and when we closed their fans. … Just that instant. ”
The Nuggets sent a message in the first half. They seemed engaged on both ends but especially on offense, energized and poised. The chemistry between Jokic and Murray was evident after the duo combined for 19 points and 12 assists to a 53-42 halftime lead. In one telling stretch, Jokic headed Murray for a backdoor give-and-go which was reminiscent of Murray’s momentum-swinging Game 4 jam.
Only minutes later, Murray fed Jokic for a look that catapulted the Nuggets into the half. If it wasn’t those two slicing apart San Antonio’s protection for 17 assists, it was Harris outside shooting extending the floor with his precision. Harris murdered three of the Nuggets’ seven to buoy the guide.
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