Jamal Murray could not have asked for a better look.
With 97-96, Murray had the winner of the game at his fingertips. Instead, his midrange sweater was off, and the San Antonio Spurs landed Saturday's win (101: 96) in Game 1 (Saturday 1).
Game 2 is Tuesday night, but the Nuggets will not have an easy time clearing it.
They received a triple-double from their franchise star Nikola Jokic, who ended up with 10 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists. He cut up the San Antonio defense and split it up, but a night with 6 of 28 points from the 3-point line undermined Denver's efforts. Murray finished with 1
Gary Harris finished a team-high 20 and came to life in the fourth quarter, but the Nuggets could not keep it, despite ample opportunities. Denver will have to wait at least a few days for his first postseason win since 2013. In the wake of the attack, Will Barton took the role of the attacker in the third quarter. He put a 3-pointer to the point and finished the car with a strong overcoming to bring the deficit to 62-59. The nuggets' 3-point shootings continued despite their good looks and could not be tied. But before the quarter was over, Jokic took on the more aggressive end, and Denver finished fourth, 72-68. Overall, they held the Spurs at only 13 points and aroused an audience from the Pepsi Center, which cheered their team.
The Nuggets could not have better defended the two stars of San Antonio, DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. They garnered 33 points for 12 points out of 36, while the defenders of the nuggets stifled their look and made them uncomfortable.
When Nuggets coach Michael Malone started his first game as head coach of a playoff team, he wanted to set the tone for the shootout on Saturday.
"I had Paul Millsap in front of our team this morning after the shooting and he was phenomenal," Malone said. "Here's a guy who has 89 playoff games in his stomach. He talked about hugging the moment, looking around, enjoying it, being proud of what we did this year, and then going out and just playing. This is not a rocket science. This is still basketball.
Despite Gregg Popovich's propensity for adjustments, Malone insisted that his offense would resemble seventh place in the NBA in the regular season.
"When I try to do something different, coach in a different way, I think our players are turned off and vote me off," Malone said before the game. "So it will be more of the same. I go the same way, we will play in the same way.
From playoff-approved veterans to first-time visitors, this was the theme of Game 1. Barton said the Nuggets could not let Popovich's aura affect their way of thinking.
"It's the biggest," Barton said. "You can only focus on our team."
Barton admitted that the Spurs are notorious for detecting errors and using defensive errors.
"They are playing the right path," he said. "They make the right game, every play. And they let you pay. We know that we can not make mistakes.
The defensive Slog of the first quarter became a barn burner before the second quarter was over. The Spurs' 34-second lead resulted in a 59-51 halftime lead based on 54 percent shots. The margin would have been narrower if the nuggets had not been cold from the outside and from 3-point range would only be 2 for 13.
Although Denver's offensive would be relatively close, four starters finished the first half with at least nine points. The only one who did not reach this benchmark was Jokic, who built all of them instead. Jokic collected 9 assists and 7 rebounds through the nuggets' patented dribble handoffs or high screen-and-roll promotions.
They kept excellent control of DeRozan and Aldridge and limited the All-Star combo to just 15 points first half It was the rhythm of San Antonio from the 3-point line that kept the Nuggets' defense away.