While their young players took center stage against Denver, here’s how the San Antonio Spurs’ veteran leadership stole Game One in the Mile High City.
The headlines in the paper and talking heads on television will elude to how the young supporting cast of the Spurs, led by Derrick White and Bryn Forbes, led the charge that allowed the San Antonio Spurs to steal Game 1 on the road and they’re right.
White put Paul Millsap on his basketball trading card with a thunderous slam that jolted the team and Forbes got the Spurs off to a good start behind the three-point line in a game that would surely need the Black and Silver to match efficiency in that regard against a high-flying, three-point shooting squad in Denver that battled for the top seed in the West all year.
However, it was the veteran leadership from the Spurs that allowed them to seal the deal in a game that was a Jamal Murray free throw line jumper away from slipping out of their grasp.
Once Murray and Gary Harris began to heat up down the stretch, it seemed the promising backcourt and a raucous crowd that had been pretty silent all game would propel the Nuggets to a Game One comeback victory that could easily deject a Spurs team that had fought so hard just to see the game lost with a few minutes remaining.
At the 3:23 mark of the fourth quarter, with Denver cutting the lead to a mere four points, it was the longest tenured Spur, Patty Mills, that would drain a baseline jumper off the bounce to cause Mike Malone to use a timeout as the lead was back to six points for the Spurs.
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The next Denver possession would see Rudy Gay come down with a rebound after Murray missed a runner. As San Antonio held a six-point lead and the ball with three minutes left, Spurs fans must have breathed sigh of relief only to be rapidly replaced with anguish as Murray wrestled the ball away from Rudy and converted a three-point play as Gay fouled him, cutting the lead in half with the home fans going crazy.
DeMar Derozan, tormented by the media for his lackluster playoff performance against LeBron James in years past as Eastern Conference foes, would then hit a tough, double-pump shot outside of the lane on the very next play to silence the crowd.
Fast forward to the end of the game with the Spurs clinging to a one point lead with 6.9 seconds remaining after the inexperienced Jamal Murray missed perhaps his easiest shot of the game, it was one LaMarcus Aldridge that would calmly step to the charity stripe and drain 2 free throws.
Yes, Derrick White would steal the ball from a frantic Murray to officially seal the game, but it was veterans Patty Mills, who has hit big shots on every stage of basketball in multiple continents, along with DeMar Derozan and LaMarcus Aldridge who faced their playoff demons and proved why their tandem is good enough to lead an afterthought Spurs team to a huge playoff road win.
The San Antonio Spurs will absolutely need their up-and-coming players to quickly grow up and continue to produce in order to have a chance in these playoffs. Yet, we should not forget that it is the stability of veteran leadership that provides the backbone of this team, especially when the postseason can be chaotic and teams have ample time to gameplan.
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San Antonio fans should be excited for this current playoff run and for years to come as the foundation of their backcourt will be a problem for many teams down the road. For now, we’ll see if Pop and company and continue to teach old dogs new tricks as they flex their old man strength.