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.

Gregg Popovich on Spurs drafting Derrick White: ‘Never even knew he existed in the world. Didn’t know he was on the planet’

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Under president-coach Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have drafted legendarily well. Manu Ginobili (No. 57 in 1999), Tony Parker (No. 28 in 2001), Kawhi Leonard (No. 15 in 2011) stand out amid a long list of quality selections.

But maybe don’t give Popovich too much credit for Derrick White, the No. 29 pick in the 2017 draft.

Popovich, via ESPN:

I never even saw him, never even knew he existed in the world. Didn’t know he was on the planet.

I’m busy. I’ve got other stuff to do. I can’t watch this guy. I don’t know who these guys are. I’m at dinner. I’m ordering wine. I’m relaxing. They’ve got to find the talent, right? I’ve got to teach back-door, and I’ve got to find the talent?

Popovich is obviously joking about being too busy eating and drinking (though wine is actually quite important to Popovich). But not scouting White at all? I wonder how serious that is.

Though Popovich has the title and salary of a team president, he has empowered general manager R.C. Buford. It’s to the point people forget about Popovich when explaining why president-coaches “always” fail.

A big drawback of someone holding the dual title: It’s too much work for one person. However involved Popovich is in roster-building, he and Buford have clearly struck a productive balance.

White ascended to starting point guard after Dejounte Murray‘s season-ending injury and played well this season. White is a high-level defensive guard, and he showed his athleticism in Game 1 against the Nuggets:

San Antonio did well to identify and draft White, who began his college career at Division-II Colorado–Colorado Springs then transferred to Colorado for his senior year. White has also developed impressively while with the Spurs. At minimum, Popovich had a hand in that development.

But if drafting White were completely up to Buford, still give Popovich some credit for trusting the general manager. Popovich is in charge. Knowing how to delegate is part of good leadership.

Tony Parker’s playoff streak ends at 17 years, third-longest in NBA history

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When the Spurs drafted him out of France in 2001, Tony Parker was still a novelty. Gregg Popovich summarized the concern: “Everybody knows you don’t get point guards from Europe, because they’re generally not quick enough and they don’t have a grasp of the NBA game.”

Now, Parker is one of the standard-bearers for having a grasp of the NBA game. He became the starting point guard on a playoff team as a teenage rookie, and he has sustained his success nearly two decades.

That’s part of the reason the Hornets signed him last summer. Unfortunately for Parker, that move will also end his playoff streak.

After reaching the postseason all 17 of his seasons with San Antonio, Parker will fall short with Charlotte, which was eliminated from the playoff race yesterday.

Only Karl Malone and John Stockton (19 seasons each) have longer postseason streaks. Parker is tied with Jason Kidd at 17.

Here are the longest playoff streaks of all-time:

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With LeBron James‘ Lakers also missing the playoffs and ending his 13-year postseason streak, Parker’s exclusion puts 76ers guard J.J. Redick in line to take over the longest active playoff streak. Redick has played in the last 12 postseasons.

Here are the longest active playoff streaks among players on teams headed to the 2019 postseason. Players are listed with the teams they made the postseason with during their streaks. If they haven’t reached the playoffs in their stint with their current team, that team is listed in brackets:

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Correction: Patty Mills was added to the above graphic.

Meanwhile, the Spurs are still humming.

Spurs match record by making playoffs 22nd straight year

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Before the season, Kurt Helin and I did something ahistorical: We picked the Spurs to miss the playoffs.

Kawhi Leonard was gone. So were cogs Danny Green, Kyle Anderson, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Dejounte Murray was out for the year.

I didn’t feel great about omitting San Antonio, but the Western Conference was crowded. There were more good teams than postseason spots. Someone had to get left out.

Of course, it wasn’t the Spurs.

The NBA’s most consistent winner qualified for the playoffs yet again. San Antonio clinched its 22nd straight postseason berth with the Kings’ loss to the Rockets on Saturday. That ties the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers (1950-1971) for the longest playoff streak in NBA history.

Here are the longest postseason streaks of all-time:

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San Antonio’s success is particularly impressive considering the era. The league is bigger than ever with 30 teams. Contracts are shorter than before. It’s so easy to have an off year.

Tim Duncan ensured the Spurs remained competitive for so long. Lately, Gregg Popovich has gotten enough star production from LaMarcus Aldridge then gotten everyone else on the same page. San Antonio just avoids mistakes and keeps chugging.

Nobody else now even nears the Spurs’ playoff longevity. Their playoff streak is more than three times longer than any other current streak:

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Of course, people could again predict the Spurs to miss the playoffs next year. I even might. Weighted by playing time, they have the NBA’s second-oldest team (behind only the Rockets). The West will likely remain tough. They could easily drop.

But it will always be uneasy picking against this model of consistency.

Believe me, I know.

Three Things to Know: Should Giannis try to play through sprained ankle?

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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) Giannis Antetokounmpo trying to play through tweaked ankle. Should he? Bring out the bubble wrap.

Seven games ago, back on March 17 against the 76ers, Giannis Antetokounmpo sprained his right ankle. He’s missed a couple of games since then but mostly has pushed to be on the court and play through it. Anyone who has sprained ankles playing hoops (or in general knows), once you sprain it the ankle is susceptible to more and worse sprains until it is fully healed. Thursday night, this happened against the Clippers.

Antetokounmpo left the game, got treatment, but was at the scorer’s table ready to return until it got so out of hand — the Bucks beat the Lou Williams-less Clippers 128-118 — that he sat the rest of the way. After the game he said he doesn’t want to sit, and coach Mike Budenholzer was non-committal.

“Usually when you sprain your ankle, you stay out for two, three, four games. But I don’t like missing games. I’ve got to work through it while playing. I’ll be ready to play until coach (Mike Budenholzer) tells me not to play,” Antetokounmpo said, via AP.

“I think we all are hoping he can push through and be healthy going forward,” Budenholzer said. “We’ll see how he’s feeling after tonight and either bring out the bubble wrap or keep playing.”

Bring out the bubble wrap.

The Bucks have a four-game lead in the East over the Raptors for the top seed, both in the West and the NBA. That’s locked up. What matters most is that Antetokounmpo’s ankle is healed and not a lingering issue that is going to flare up again in the playoffs — he can’t miss games in the second round against Boston (or whomever) because his ankle never got right and it was easily tweaked again.

There are MVP race concerns about leaving an impression on voters (he’s played in 69 games and may want to get in a couple more), plus Antetokounmpo is just an old-school competitor who doesn’t want to stop. That’s all good. However, if the Bucks’ priority is the playoffs and showing they are a serious title contender that can come out of the East, they need Antetokounmpo at 100 percent. And that means getting his ankle healed now.

2) Clint Capela outplays Nikola Jokic, Rocket defense shows out in a big win over Nuggets. Houston is a tough matchup for Denver. It has looked that way on paper, and it certainly looked that way Thursday night. Which should worry Nuggets’ fans (and players, and coaching staff) because this appears the most likely second-round matchup for the Nuggets.

Houston thrashed Denver 112-85 and there were four areas where they owned the game.

• Houston’s defense held Denver to less than a point per possession — Denver’s offensive rating was just 90.4 through the non-garbage time parts of the game — with the Nuggets shooting 36.9 percent overall and 16.7 percent from three (4-of-24). When the Rockets defend like this they look like contenders.

James Harden had 38 points and got to the free throw line 14 times, the Nuggets had no answer for defending him.

• Clint Capela outplayed Nikola Jokic (or at least held him to a standstill). Caplea had one more point than Jokic (17 to 16) and was more efficient with his shooting, plus Capela had 15 boards (Jokic had 8). Jokic did have six assists and certainly impacted the game, but the Rockets’ center didn’t let him dominate.

• The Rocket bench absolutely owned the Nugget bench, which has been slumping recently.

Be careful taking too much away from a regular season game and applying it to the postseason, these games are poor predictors of future outcomes. However, this game seemed to confirm what looked like a rough matchup for Denver going in. If these teams meet in the postseason, the Nuggets have a lot of work to do.

3) Orlando loses, Miami wins, Heat back as the eight seed in the East. For now. The race for the final couple of playoff spots in the East remains a jumbled mess that can go a lot of different directions — five teams are within 2.5 games of each other with three playoff spots available — but things shook out some on Thursday night.

• Detroit gave themselves a little breathing room and held on to the six seed beating Orlando 115-98 (the Pistons are now 1.5 games clear of falling out of the playoffs, and fivethirtyeight.com gives Detroit a 99 percent chance of making the postseason).

• That Orlando loss combined with a Miami win over Denver means the Heat are back as the eight seed by half-a-game (and Miami is now one ahead of Orlando in the loss column).

• Brooklyn maintains the seven seed despite a loss to the 76ers that dropped the Nets to .500 (38-38).

It’s going to be a wild final couple of weeks in the East.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: The Spurs retired Manu Ginobili’s jersey in a touching ceremony Thursday night, one befitting a legendary player that was at the heart of one of the great NBA runs. The entire ceremony is nearly an hour long, but here is the jersey heading to the rafters:

And here are the speeches from Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Gregg Popovich.