Derrick White scores 36 points as Spurs take 2-1 lead vs. Nuggets

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SAN ANTONIO — San Antonio point guard Derrick White was screaming, flexing and stomping around the court after almost every basket against Denver.

It was completely out of character for White, but the mild-mannered point guard has never been in this situation before.

White had a career-high 36 points and the Spurs beat the Nuggets 118-108 on Thursday night, withstanding a first-half lapse to take a 2-1 lead in the first-round series.

“I just had a chip on my shoulder,” White said. “This is the way I’ve played since I was young. Just try to go out there, compete and have fun.”

Nikola Jokic had 22 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for Denver.

Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio, where the Spurs are 3-0 against the Nuggets this season.

White attacked Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray from the opening tip after being on the receiving end of Murray’s career outing Tuesday night. Murray had only six points, a game after scoring 21 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter to help Denver overcome a 19-point deficit to even the series.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Derrick White, the last couple of days, has been reminded about Jamal Murray’s fourth-quarter performance,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Derrick White came out like he hadn’t eaten in two days. He came out hungry, he came out (ticked) off and he sent a very loud and clear message. I’m anxious to see our guys, how do we respond to that.”

White set his career high after being fouled by Paul Millsap on a driving layup that bounced off the side of the rim, hit the backboard and fell in to give the Spurs a 99-89 lead with 8:52 remaining. White added five rebounds, five assists and three steals while shooting 12 for 17. The point guard matched his overall career high with 26 points in the first half.

DeMar DeRozan took over after that, scoring 21 of his 25 points in the second half. LaMarcus Aldridge added 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Rudy Gay had 11 points and 10 rebounds.

The Spurs finished with 62 points in the paint and had a 45-37 rebound advantage.

“They are doing a good job of attacking the paint,” Jokic said. “They were living in our paint. I think it’s not just smalls, it’s our bigs, too. I think we all need to be more disciplined and more focused.”

White had 10 points in the opening quarter while primarily being defended by Murray.

“He was obviously spectacular,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “I don’t know what else to say. At both ends of the floor.”

Denver’s second unit dominated, turning a 31-22 deficit after the first quarter into a 38-31 advantage early in the second quarter. The Nuggets opened the second quarter shooting 7 for 8, including a pair of 3-pointers by Malik Beasley. San Antonio’s first points came on Jakob Poeltl‘s two free throws with 8:41 left.

Beasley finished with 20 points, and Gary Harris added 12 points.

Harris stole the ball from Gay at midcourt and then calmly drained a 3-pointer before the Spurs’ defense could set for a 50-40 lead. San Antonio then went on a 21-8 run to close the half and recapture a lead it would not relinquish.

“We got our (butts) kicked because we couldn’t guard anybody,” Malone said.

TIP-INS

Nuggets: Denver is the eighth youngest team in playoff history. . Jokic is averaging 11.7 rebounds and 9.7 assists the series. … Isaiah Thomas was eligible to play but did not. … Millsap picked up his third foul with 2:12 remaining in the first half after bumping Aldridge near the 3-pointer. Millsap threw his hands up in frustration as he exited. He finished with five fouls.

Spurs: The Spurs are 22-7 against the Nuggets in the postseason, including 13-3 at home. … White’s previous career highs were 26 points in the regular season against Brooklyn on Jan. 31 and 17 against Denver in Game 2. … Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are the only players to score more points in any half for the Spurs in the postseason than White’s 26 points in the first half.

MINDSET?

Popovich was bemused when asked what the Spurs’ mindset is after earning a split on the road.

“What’s their mindset,” Popovich asked. “I didn’t give any psychological tests today or anything. It’s their job, they are going to come play, so will the Nuggets. They are going to try to win. Nuggets are going to try to win. It’s a competitive sport, that’s the mindset. It’s not too difficult to imagine.”

EXPERIENCED

White made his first postseason start in Game 1 at Denver, but he joked that he has plenty of playoff experience.

“Everybody said I didn’t have playoff experience, but I did this in the G League,” White said. “Just kidding. But it was big for my development.”

UP NEXT

Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio.

Nuggets take 13-game losing streak in San Antonio into Game 3

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In 2009, Carlos Boozer had 18 points and 11 rebounds in the Jazz’s win over the Spurs. Paul Millsap backed him up.

A couple months later, Boozer had 31-13 in another Jazz win over the Spurs. Again, Millsap backed him up.

Late in the 2012-13 season, rookie Damian Lillard led the Trail Blazers to a blowout of the Spurs. Will Barton played three minutes in garbage time.

Those are the only three times current Nuggets starters have won in San Antonio.

After splitting the first two games of their first-round series in Denver, the Nuggets must win at least once in San Antonio to advance. The first opportunity comes in Game 3 tonight.

Denver has lost 13 straight road games against the Spurs – a drought longer than the careers of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris. The Nuggets’ other starters didn’t fare much better before joining Denver. Barton went 1-5 in San Antonio with Portland. Millsap went 2-20 in San Antonio with Utah and Atlanta.

Even several notches below their dynasty status, the Spurs remain especially tough at home.

The Spurs went 32-9 at home and 16-25 on the road this season. Maybe that’s an aberration in a limited sample. But they also went 33-8 at home and 14-27 on the road last season.

That’s a 79% win percentage at home and 37% on the road. The last time a team had such a large disparity over a two-year span was the 2008-2009 Jazz.

This might just be San Antonio’s post-Kawhi Leonard identity.

Here are the largest home-road win percentage differences in the last decade:

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There’s another possibility: It’s not that the Spurs are that good at home. It’s that they’re that bad on the road.

But San Antonio trailed only the Nuggets, Bucks and Raptors in home record this season.

The Spurs also won Game 1 in Denver, where the altitude has historically given the Nuggets a strong homecourt advantage. If Denver dropped that game to a lousy road team, that’d be its own problem.

Either way, the Nuggets have a real challenge on their hands.

Nuggets must overcome extreme playoff-experience deficit against Spurs

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In Game 1 of their first-round series, the Nuggets outscored the Spurs by six points in seven minutes while both teams’ starters were on the floor. The game got away from Denver the other 41 minutes, when San Antonio gained an 11-point advantage.

“They’re coming off the bench with Patty Mills, Belinelli and Rudy Gay,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We’re coming off the bench with guys that were in the G League last year.

“We understand who we are, where we’re at.”

I don’t take Malone’s remark as a slam of his own team. Rather, it’s an acknowledgement of how far and how quickly Denver has risen. Monte Morris did climb from the minor league to a key NBA role. The Nuggets did end a five-year playoff drought. They are playing the Spurs, who’ve made the postseason 22 straight years.

It’s not criticism to acknowledge the disparity of experience in this matchup.

Everyone who played for San Antonio in Game 1 had prior playoff experience. Only 35% of Denver’s minutes went to players with prior playoff experience.

Paul Millsap, Will Barton and Mason Plumlee are the only rotation Nuggets to appear in a previous postseason. Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Monte Morris, Malik Beasley and Torrey Craig never have.

In these 2019 playoffs, Denver has – by far – given the small share of minutes to players with prior playoff experience:

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The last team with such little playoff experience by this measure: 2016 Pistons, who had what we’ll call a Playoff-Experience Level (PEL) of just 30%. That Detroit got swept by the eventual-champion Cavaliers in the first round. Cleveland exclusively used playoff-experienced players that postseason, save four minutes for rookie Jordan McRae.

The 70-point PEL gap between those teams is also one of the highest in recent years, higher even than the 65-point PEL gap between the Nuggets and Spurs.

But the Cavs were the No. 1 seed, the Pistons the No. 8 seed. That’s usually how it goes, the more-experienced team the higher seed.

That’s not true with the second-seeded Nuggets and seventh-seeded Spurs, though. Denver outperformed San Antonio throughout the season.

Does the Spurs’ experience give them an edge now?

Here are the series with PEL gaps above 60% (using full postseason minutes) since the NBA-ABA merger. When the higher seed has a higher PEL, that series is in white. When the lower seed has a higher PEL, that series is in silver. Denver-Antonio is in gold. All teams are listed with their seed first.

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Of the few times the team with the big PEL advantage was the lower seed, the experienced team pulled the upset. That doesn’t bode well for Denver.

The largest PEL gap overcome by a higher seed since the merger? It was 59.6% by the third-seeded Celtics, who beat the sixth-seeded 76ers in the 2002 first round.

So, if the Nuggets win as a higher seed despite a 65% PEL deficit, they’ll make history.

And maybe they will.

Denver is already heading up faster than its experience level would suggest.

Edge for home-court throughout West playoffs on line as Nuggets visit Warriors

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The inside track to home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs will be on the line when the Denver Nuggets go head-to-head with the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night in Oakland, Calif.

The Warriors (52-24) enter the showdown one game up on the Nuggets (51-25) and can take a big step toward locking down the top record in the West for the fourth time in the last five years with a win.

Golden State has won two of the first three meetings between the teams this season. A third win would clinch the season series, which is the first tie-breaker, meaning the Warriors, with a win, would in essence have a three-game lead over the Nuggets with just five games remaining.

The Warriors’ remaining schedule is not difficult, with home games against Cleveland and the Los Angeles Clippers, and road contests against three teams already assured of being lottery-bound — the Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans and Memphis.

A win by the Nuggets, on the other hand, would complicate things in that it not only would create a tie atop the conference, but also square the season series.

The next tie-breaker is conference record, and Denver (31-15) currently holds a slight edge there over Golden State (31-16).

But the Nuggets’ remaining schedule is much more difficult, featuring four straight games against Western playoff clubs — San Antonio, a home-and-home with Portland and at Utah — before finishing up at home against Minnesota.

That being the case, a Denver loss on Tuesday night would create the distinct possibility of the Nuggets getting caught from behind for the No. 2 seeding.

Houston and Portland remain in that mix.

Both Golden State and Denver have shown vulnerabilities of late.

The Warriors have lost four of their last eight home games, but are coming off one of their best, a 137-90 blowout of Charlotte, an Eastern playoff contender.

In the end, the game served for Golden State as little more than a warm-up for Tuesday’s showdown.

“Nights like tonight show our full potential,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry boasted to reporters after the game. “It’s obviously starting to get real with the countdown being what it is. It’s a good feeling right now, so we have to keep going.”

The Warriors have had that feeling in their last two games against the Nuggets. After losing 100-98 at Denver in October, Golden State has blown out the Northwest Division leader by 31 and 17 points in their last two meetings.

The Nuggets had drawn even with the Warriors before falling 95-90 at home against Washington on Sunday night. Denver has alternated wins and losses in its last six games.

The loss to the Wizards was particularly disturbing. Jamal Murray couldn’t finish the important contest after twisting his left ankle, and the Denver offense continued a recent slump with a 10-point third quarter that let Washington back into the game.

“If we don’t figure it out going on this roadie, it’s going to be tough to win,” veteran forward Paul Millsap said to reporters after the game of the team’s offensive woes. “It’s something we’ve got to look at, for sure, and try to nip it in the bud.”

 

Three Things to Know: Nikola Jokic’s leaner at buzzer tops Luka Doncic dunk

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Nikola Jokic’s leaner at buzzer beats Luka Doncic dunk in Denver win. Dallas may have lost six in a row and 11-of-12 coming into Thursday night, but do not question how badly Luka Doncic wants to win these meaningless games (or Dallas) down the stretch. Doncic doesn’t do tanking. He may be slumping (shooting 21.6 percent from three in his last five games) but it’s not because he’s mailing it in.

Just ask Denver, who watched him put up 24 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Thursday — and he threw down a dunk over two Nuggets with 5.8 seconds left that looked like a game winner.

Then Nikola Jokic topped it.

Denver came from 10 down in the fourth quarter, tied it on a Paul Millsap bucket that gave him 33 on the night, got lucky Doncic missed a free throw after being fouled on his clutch dunk (that and-1 point would have had Dallas up two), then gave the ball to their star with everything on the line and he hit a well-defended leaner for the win.

That shot crushed Doncic.

Denver’s win keeps them just one game back of Golden State for the top seed in the West, maintaining pressure on the Warriors not to mail in the rest of the season.

2) Pacers will not go quietly, beat Thunder to hang on to three seed in East. Indiana is not folding. First, Victor Oladipo went down and people expected the Pacers to crash and burn, but they just kept on finding ways to win. Then the Pacers hit (and are still in the middle of) a brutal patch of the schedule, but they refuse to roll over. If Philadelphia is going to be the three seed, it will have to pry it from the Pacers’ cold, dead hands. Indiana is not going away.

Just ask the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Pacers held on to the three seed for another night, coming from 19 down in the second half for a clutch home win. They can thank Wesley Matthews, the guy they picked up to fill some of Oladipo’s minutes. Matthews was the closer. First, he played good defense on Paul George.

Then he had the putback game winner (Russell Westbrook watched the ball, slid into the middle of the lane and didn’t put a body on him).

As always with the Pacers it was a team effort — Domantas Sabonis scored 26 and keeps making his Sixth Man of the Year case. Coach Nate McMillan may have found something with a lineup of Matthews, Sabonis, Myles Turner, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Darren Collison. That group outscored the Thunder 23-10 down the stretch. The group played so well Thaddeus Young told coach Nate McMillan not to sub him in and break up what was working.

It was too much for OKC despite Russell Westbrook’s triple-double and Paul George dropping 36 points.

Indiana is half-a-game up on Philly for the three seed, with Boston 1.5 back. Indy still has work to do — six of their next seven are on the road, all against playoff-bound teams — but don’t expect them to fold.

3) Kyrie Irving triple-double leads Boston to a gritty win. Pretty or ugly, the wins all count the same. And the Celtics need those wins.

The first-half Thursday was ugly for the Celtics. Boston’s shaky transition defense was getting abused by a Kings’ team that always plays in fifth gear. Plus, the Celtics shot 1-of-12 from three. Sacramento led by as many as 17 and seemed in control.

Then the second half saw toughness from Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown getting buckets on his way to 22. Then when Boston needed it, Kyrie Irving stepped up, finishing with a 31 point, 12 assists, 10 rebound triple-double.

Boston remains the five seed in the East, but the Celtics may be playing the best ball of any East contender entering the playoffs. In the postseason, grit goes a long way, and Boston has shown it has plenty when needed.