DeMar DeRozan, Spurs defense too much for Nuggets in Game 1
DENVER — Nikola Jokic overcame suffocating double teams to become the fourth player in NBA history to record a triple-double in his playoff debut and the first since LeBron James in 2006.
What did it mean to him?
“To be honest, nothing,” Jokic said.
It also mattered little to the San Antonio Spurs, who beat the Denver Nuggets 101-96 in Game 1 of their Western Conference playoff series Saturday night.
Jokic’s accomplishment was rendered a footnote by LaMarcus Aldridge’s suffocating defense, DeMar DeRozen’s 18 points, Derrick White’s clinching steal in the closing seconds and all those wide-open shots that just didn’t fall for Denver.
Although Jokic pulled down 14 rebounds and dished out 14 assists, he took just nine shots, made four, and was limited to 10 points, less than half his regular season scoring average of 20.1.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called it a wash because Aldridge wasn’t himself, either, going just 6 of 19 for 15 points.
“We didn’t let Jokic play as he wanted and they didn’t let LaMarcus play as much as he wanted,” Popovich said. “It is important because they are both great players and they are going to continue to get a lot of attention throughout the series.”
Aldridge said this is what everyone can expect this whole series, too.
“Both bigs kind of never really got comfortable down there. When you have two bigs that are so big for your team, it’s going to be like that,” Aldridge said. “We did a good job of just trying to mix it up on him. They did the same thing on me.”
Nuggets coach Michael Malone said he didn’t wish his All-Star had taken more shots.
“Every time he put it down, there was somebody right there. They trapped him every time,” Malone said. “So, I think Nikola has a high IQ. He’s going to make the right play. Unfortunately, we didn’t make them pay for double-teaming enough.”
The Nuggets made just 42 percent of their shots, 21 percent from 3-point range, and missed eight free throws while failing to score a single fast-break basket.
“I think if we’re making shots, it becomes a lot harder to double-team him consistently,” Malone said. “They stayed with it because we couldn’t make a shot. So, that was the tough thing about it. But I love Nikola’s approach. I love his play-making. I love his passing.”
The sellout crowd at the Pepsi Center, where the Nuggets went 34-7 for the best home record in the league, certainly wanted Jokic to take more shots. But even those calls quieted after Jokic shot an airball on a 3 at a crucial point in the fourth quarter.
White stole the ball at midcourt from Jamal Murray with 1.3 seconds left after Aldridge sank a pair of free throws following his key defensive rebound of Murray’s errant shot that would have given the Nuggets the lead with seven seconds left.
Game 2 is Tuesday night in Denver.
Making their first playoff appearance in six years, the Nuggets trailed most of the night, but they trimmed a 12-point deficit to one in the final minute.
They had the ball with 6.9 seconds left and needed a 3 even though they were just 6 for 28 from the arc. But they never got the chance to tie it because White, a second-year pro who moved into a bigger role when Dejounte Murray got hurt in the preseason, stripped Murray and drew the foul, then sank both shots.
“He was spectacular,” Popovich said. “For somebody who got put in that position and to learn that position with a bunch of new players, it’s really remarkable what he’s done. Hopefully, he’ll continue to play that way because it’s going to be a long series.”
Asked what adjustments he had in mind for Game 2, Malone said simply, “Make shots.”