After putting together a dominant season with a 34-7 record at the Pepsi Center, Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets struggled mightily in Game 1 against the San Antonio Spurs, failing to score consistently on their way to a disappointing loss. On Tuesday evening, the outlook wasn’t rosy for either player or team for much of the night but, just as Denver’s offensive issues seemingly were on pace to sink their playoff hopes, Murray awakened, leading the Nuggets a 114-105 victory. Now, the series heads to San Antonio all tied up at one game apiece.
Much as it was in Game 1, the early going was a struggle for Denver’s offense, with the notable exception of Paul Millsap. The veteran forward scored 11 of the first 17 points for the Nuggets and, without his contributions, the home team would have been in significant trouble.
Still, Millsap battled foul trouble, and eventually, the ball began rolling downhill for the visiting Spurs. San Antonio put together a blistering 25-6 run between the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second, pushing ahead by a dominating score of 41-23. DeMar DeRozan was at the center of the onslaught for the Spurs.
In totality, the Nuggets opened the game making only nine of their first 33 shots, and that ineptitude also resulted in a pair of three-minute stretches without a field goal. Then, however, Denver began to spring to life, using an 11-0 run to climb within striking distance.
The Spurs did throw a haymaker before halftime, though, as DeRozan helped to stabilize things with 17 points.
Though the Nuggets did flash their considerable upside in the first half, the Spurs threatened to pull away in the third quarter, mounting a 19-point lead on the strength of a 17-5 run. That push did not please the hometown faithful, as boo birds arrived in Denver with their team floundering.
That 19-point edge was as large as the lead got, and the Nuggets began to chip away. Denver closed the third period on a 16-4 run, with contributions coming from up and down the roster.
By the time Millsap delivered a three-point play at the 6:49 mark of the closing period, the game was very much back in the competitive zone.
Finally, it was time for Murray to break out. The young guard opened the night missing all eight of his shots in the first three quarters but he turned things up in the fourth, making his first eight attempts down the stretch to carry the Nuggets.
Given the nature of San Antonio largely dominating the evening, it was jarring to see Denver essentially pull away during the stretch run, as the Nuggets scored 38 points in the fourth quarter to avoid even the hint of a Spurs comeback in the closing seconds.
All told, Murray led the way with 24 points, including 21 in the fourth quarter. He was flanked by strong efforts from Millsap (20 points, seven rebounds) and Gary Harris (23 points, five rebounds). In addition, Nikola Jokic put together a star-caliber showing, finishing with 21 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in his typically stellar fashion.
The Nuggets have a tall task ahead, needing to win three of the next five games without the benefit of home-court advantage. Still, Denver is in a much friendlier position on the heels of a wild, fourth-quarter comeback and Murray will undoubtedly bring an additional layer of confidence to his first road playoff game later in the week.