The San Antonio Spurs handled the Nuggets at home in Game Six to force a winner-take-all Game Seven in Denver. How can the Spurs steal a victory and move on to the second round?
The San Antonio Spurs and Denver Nuggets promised to be one of the most intriguing matchups in the first round, and it has lived up to the hype as they head to a Game Seven on Saturday night.
The Spurs and Nuggets traded wins in the first four games before Denver took a 3-2 series lead with a dominant performance in Game Five.
San Antonio stepped up with their backs against the wall in Game Six and pulled away in the fourth quarter to force a deciding Game Seven.
We’ve seen the stars shine bright at times in this series while certain role players have stolen the spotlight like Derrick White did in Game Three.
Both teams relied on home court advantage during the regular season, but each of them have stolen a game on the road in this series.
The Spurs will need a repeat performance of their road win in Game One if they want to move on to face Portland in the second round.
Here’s what San Antonio needs to do to pull off a major first round upset.
Next: Dominant performances from Aldridge and DeRozan
Dominant performances from Aldridge and DeRozan
While DeRozan’s numbers over the first five games looked solid, Aldridge struggled putting up under 20 points per game with a true shooting percentage of just 50.5% in those five games.
However, they both played well in Game Six to send this series to Game Seven.
They did still take turns with Aldridge scoring 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists in the first half while DeRozan scored 7 points with 7 assists in the first two quarters.
But LaMarcus finished with 26 points on 10-for-18 shooting, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, and 0 turnovers while DeMar turned it on to score 18 points in the second half to end the game with 25 points while making 12 of his 16 shots with 7 assists, 5 rebounds, and just 1 turnover.
The Spurs may need even more from Aldridge and DeRozan in Game Seven if they are going to close out this first round upset.
Next: Repeat performance from Rudy Gay
Repeat performance from Rudy Gay
Rudy Gay was the Spurs’ third-best player for a large portion of the season, but he nearly disappeared for the first five games in the series.
Gay scored 7.6 points per night in the first five games with an abominable true shooting percentage of 40.2%, and the Spurs had an unimpressive defensive rating of 115 when he was on the floor.
Rudy finally turned it around in Game Six with 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, and he also got it done on the defensive end of the floor with 2 blocks and 4 defensive rebounds.
Gay looked like the Spurs’ best all-around player at various points throughout the regular season, and we got the pleasure of seeing him perform at that level again in Game Six.
Hopefully this was a sign that Rudy has shaken out of this slump in time to have another big game when San Antonio needs it most in Game Seven.
Next: Slow down Nikola Jokic
Slow down Nikola Jokic
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This is easier said than done as Jokic has a great shot of making First Team All-NBA this season.
There were some skeptics who thought Nikola’s game wouldn’t translate to the playoffs. But he quieted those critics by averaging 19.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 9 assists per game through the first five games, and he completely silenced the naysayers by dropping 43 points on 19-for-30 shooting with 12 rebounds and 9 assists while getting no help from his teammates in Game Six.
Jakob Poeltl has been doing his best, but the Spurs simply don’t have a defender who can stop Jokic one-on-one, so it’s going to take a total team effort to prevent him from going off again in Game Seven.
The best strategy may be to get the ball out of Jokic’s hands with aggressive double teams and force the Nuggets’ role players to knock down shots even though Nikola is one of the best passing big men of all-time.
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While I’m unsure of how the Spurs can solve the Nikola Jokic problem, I believe the greatest coach in NBA history could have something up his sleeve for the dynamic center.