ASSOCIATED PRESS — Minutes after missing an open shot that could have changed the outcome of his first career playoff game, Jamal Murray climbed the stairs from the Denver Nuggets locker room and started shooting on the practice court.
For about an hour, the young point guard tried to erase the 8-for-23 shooting night in a 101-96 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinal series.
“I just didn’t go into my shot like I normally do,” Murray said Monday about his miss. “I rushed it a little bit, so next game I’ll calm my shot down a little bit more and be more relaxed. Not be too excited, not be too anxious.”
Murray and the Nuggets get their chance Tuesday night at home in Game 2. It’s as close to a must-win game for Denver as it can be; a loss drops the No. 2 seed in an 0-2 hole heading back to San Antonio for two games.
“I don’t think we’re in panic mode. We don’t feel like we have to make a whole lot of adjustments,” Nuggets guard Will Barton said. “We have to make a few adjustments and we have to make shots.”
The veteran Spurs held Denver to 42 percent shooting and led for most of the game. The Nuggets were down five with 2:24 left and had a chance to take the lead, but Murray misfired on an 18-footer with 9.4 seconds left.
After two days of analyzing and breaking down the film, both teams are ready for Game 2.
“They’re going to be more aggressive, defensively, offensively, and we’ve got to be prepared for that,” Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan said. “We’ve got to be better, we’ve got expect it. It’s going to be even more of a dogfight this time around.”
Denver didn’t score a point in transition and San Antonio held center Nikola Jokic to 10 points by double-teaming the All-Star center when he was in the low post. Jokic did have 14 rebounds and 14 assists, but he could have had nearly 20 assists if his teammates hit open shots.
“I thought Denver had a lot of great shots that they missed,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “Our defense could have been better and we were fortunate they missed some of those shots.”
The Nuggets did miss shots, but the Spurs’ top scorers weren’t doing much better.
DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge scored 18 and 15 points, respectively, and missed 24 of their 36 shot attempts. Bryn Forbes (15 points), Derrick White (16 points) and Rudy Gay (14 points) picked up the slack and shot a combined 19 of 28.
“We lost that game because, yes, we couldn’t make shots but you have to give a ton of credit to Forbes, White and Rudy Gay,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
The Nuggets vowed to play better, and the Spurs, a playoff-tested team, are ready for that. They’re also not satisfied going home with a split.
“It’s not about one game, it’s about the series,” Aldridge said. “We didn’t play great and we got the win.”