Bryn Forbes

Nikola Jokic, Nuggets hold off Spurs 90-86 to win Game 7, advance to next round

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DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic had another triple-double, Jamal Murray hit a clutch floater with 36.8 seconds remaining and the Denver Nuggets held off the San Antonio Spurs 90-86 in Game 7 on Saturday night to advance in the postseason for the first time in a decade.

In a matchup between a Denver team with the youngest playoff roster in the West and the savvy Spurs, the second-seeded Nuggets built a 17-point lead in the third quarter only to see it whittled down to two with 52 seconds remaining.

Jokic finished with 21 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists, with no pass bigger than the one to set up Murray’s floater. DeMar DeRozan had a chance to slice into the deficit but was blocked by Torrey Craig.

Then, the Spurs couldn’t hear coach Gregg Popovich screaming for a foul over the noise and the Nuggets were able to essentially run out the clock.

“It took everybody,” Murray said. “Most of all it took the fans. … It’s a great feeling, an amazing feeling. We’re having a lot of fun. We’re one group. We’re united.”

Since making the Western Conference finals in 2009, the Nuggets have bowed out in the first round on four occasions. This was their first playoff appearance in six seasons.

Denver will host third-seeded Portland in a series that begins Monday.

Murray added 23 points for the Nuggets, who captured a Game 7 for the first time since May 3, 1978, when David Thompson had 37 in a win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Nuggets never trailed Saturday and it was far from easy.

“Anxiety is a good word,” coach Michael Malone joked.

Rudy Gay had 21 points for San Antonio, while DeRozan and Bryn Forbes each added 19. The Spurs fell to 3-4 in Games 7s under Gregg Popovich.

Jokic turned in another monster game. Jokic showed off his arsenal of shots, even throwing in a sky hook. He played a little more than 43 minutes – just slightly down from the 48 minutes Malone pledged to play him in pregame.

Jokic also had a triple-double in Game 1.

“He’s magnificent, magnificent,” Popovich said. “I’ll just leave it at that.”

Denver went an NBA-best 34-7 at home in the regular season and rode the energy of the crowd.

It was a forgettable first half for the Spurs, who trailed 47-34 after shooting 22.2% from the floor.

Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Wave goodbye, Damian Lillard eliminates Thunder

Associated Press
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The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Wave goodbye, Damian Lillard drops 50, game-winning three to eliminate Thunder. Paul George — the best perimeter defender in the NBA this past season, a guy who likely lands top three in Defensive Player of the Year voting — was on him. Didn’t matter. On a night when Oklahoma City was playing with a sense of desperation because their playoff lives were on the line, a night when George and Russell Westbrook combined for 65 points on 51 shots, plus 20 rebounds and 17 assists, it didn’t matter.

Because Lillard. Words do not do him or the moment justice. Just watch the game winner, which got him to 50 points on the night.

Lillard waved goodbye to the Thunder. That shot gave Portland the 4-1 series win.

It wasn’t one “bad” shot which did in the Thunder, it was OKC’s bad shooting.

The other hero of the night — and in this series — for Portland was big man Enes Kanter, who played through a separated shoulder Tuesday to have 13 points and 13 rebounds. More impressively, he played solid defense for much of the series (even if OKC didn’t drag him into enough pick-and-rolls).

Portland advances to the second round, where they will likely face…

2) The Denver Nuggets look like a team that has figured out Spurs, playoffs, take command for 3-2 series lead. Denver has won the last two games against San Antonio by a combined 42 points, and that makes it sound closer than it has actually felt.

Denver is the more talented team on paper in this series, but the question was would their lack of experience allow them to show it against a franchise that considers deep playoff runs part of its birthright. It took a few games for the Nuggets to get the confidence they needed that they could win this series, but now that they have it — now that they have figured this series out — Denver has taken command.

Tuesday was a 109-90 rout of the Spurs that has the Nuggets up 3-2 in the series. San Antonio is going home to try to force a Game 7, but they are going to have to dramatically step up their level of play.

Two things have helped Denver separate from San Antonio.

One is Nikola Jokic, who is impacting every aspect of this game and had 16 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists as the fulcrum of the Nuggets offense.

“There’s really nothing he can’t do — other than jump,” Jamal Murray joked after the game.

The other difference was the coaching move of this series (maybe of the playoffs thus far): Mike Malone moved Torrey Craig into the starting lineup and moving Will Barton to the bench. It changed the Denver defense: Craig is doing a solid job on DeMar DeRozan, it shifted Gary Harris onto the young Derrick White and Craig has won that battle, while Murray can now hide on Bryn Forbes. Craig has not been a drag on the Denver offense as predicted, Barton was not happy about the move to the sixth man but has played well and handled it like a pro, and Denver has overwhelmed San Antonio for two straight games.

Gregg Popovich will have adjustments, but what he and the Spurs need more to force a Game 7 is a role player to break out and change the momentum of this series.

3) Toronto, Philadelphia both advance to face off next round after blowout Game 5 wins. The Eastern Conference playoffs were always really going to start in the second round, with a rock/paper/scissors battle of four teams — Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Boston — all of whom can make a claim they can come out of the conference.

Tuesday night Toronto and Philadelphia closed out their series with easy wins to set up a second-round showdown between the teams.

Toronto dropped Game 1 of this series then took command the rest of the way, winning 115-96 on Tuesday in a game that was never close.

Kawhi Leonard had 27 to lead the way.

Sixers fans enjoyed letting Jared Dudley have it.

Philly got up 21 in the first quarter and cruised to a 122-100 victory. The Sixers got pushed some by the Nets, which is a good thing because Toronto is going to push a lot harder.

Nuggets have figured out Spurs, how to win, dominate Game 5 to take 3-2 lead

Associated Press
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The coach who made the adjustment that changed the series is not the Olympic team coach, not the “why isn’t he in the Hall of Fame already guy. Instead, it’s Michael Malone. He has been the Bobby Fischer.

Malone’s adjustment: Starting Torrey Craig. Exactly the move everyone expected before the series.

Defensively, Craig has used his length to slow DeMar DeRozan (as much as anyone is going to), while Gary Harris could focus on the young Derrick White and Jamal Murray could hide on Bryn Forbes.

Craig was supposed to drag down the Nuggets offense too much to play him, but he was 5-of-7 from three in Game 4, and in Game 5 it didn’t matter because the San Antonio had no answer for the Jamal Murray/Nikola Jokic pick-and-roll.

The result was a 108-90 Denver thumping of the Spurs, giving them a 3-2 series lead. Closing out the Spurs in San Antonio will be a tall order, but a Denver team that came into the series needing to learn how to win at playoff basketball looks like a team that has figured it out.

“They just outplayed us in every facet of the game,” Gregg Popovich said succinctly.

Murray had 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, plus dished out seven assists and was +33 on the night.

Murry and Jokic have developed a tremendous pick-and-roll chemistry that leads to easy buckets off cuts, rolls, or open threes. Jokic is going to be good — 16 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists — but when Murray is hitting shots too the duo is nearly impossible to stop.

More important than the offense has been how Denver has started to defend the Spurs well — something Craig helped bring to the table. The Nuggets were stepping in and blowing up pick-and-rolls, forcing the Spurs into dry stretches of offense that allowed Denver to pull away.

The Spurs at home cannot be written off, but their role players need to make more plays — LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan each had 17 points, but the rest of the Spurs shot 38.7 percent on the night. Against this Denver offense, that’s not going to be good enough. Denver has figured out what it needs to do to win, the ball is in the Spurs court to adapt. And just make shots.

No ‘panic’ for Nuggets before Game 2 vs. Spurs

Associated Press
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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.”

 

James Harden ties career best with 61, Rockets beat Spurs 111-105

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden matched his career high with 61 points, including 27 in the first quarter, to lead the Houston Rockets to a 111-105 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.

Harden hit three straight 3-pointers to give the Rockets a 103-100 lead and scored all of Houston’s points in a 13-2 run late in the fourth quarter.

Harden topped the 50-point mark for the eighth time this season, compared with 10 such performances from the rest of the league combined. He matched his career-best total set earlier this season against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

The NBA’s leading scorer surpassed the 30-point mark in the second quarter and the 40-point mark with 9 minutes remaining in the third.

Before Harden’s late surge, the Spurs led by six points with 4 minutes left in the game. The Spurs had overcome a 15-point halftime deficit to tie the game at 81 entering the fourth quarter.

Harden was 7 of 10 from the field in the first quarter, including 3 of 4 from the 3-point line, and also went 10 for 12 from the free throw line. His 27 points in the period were the second-most in franchise history, trailing only Vernon Maxwell’s 30 in 1991.

Harden finished 9 of 13 from 3, 19 of 34 from the field and 14 of 17 from the free throw line.

Houston has won 13 of its last 15 games and eight of its last nine at home.

Bryn Forbes led San Antonio with 20 points, while Derrick White added 18 and DeMar DeRozan had 16.

Houston led 36-24 at the end of the first quarter and 62-47 at halftime.