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How the Denver Nuggets defeated the San Antonio Spurs

DENVER, CO - APRIL 23: Patty Mills (8) of the San Antonio Spurs puts his arm around DeMar DeRozan (10) as they fall behind more than 20 to the Denver Nuggets during the third quarter on Tuesday (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - APRIL 23: Patty Mills (8) of the San Antonio Spurs puts his arm around DeMar DeRozan (10) as they fall behind more than 20 to the Denver Nuggets during the third quarter on Tuesday (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
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DENVER, CO – APRIL 27: Bryn Forbes #11, and Head Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs talk during Game Seven of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs against the Denver Nuggets on April 27, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO – APRIL 27: Bryn Forbes #11, and Head Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs talk during Game Seven of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs against the Denver Nuggets on April 27, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)

The San Antonio Spurs fell to the Denver Nuggets in a knock-down, drag-out first round series. Here’s how San Antonio failed to pull of a major postseason upset.

I’m currently writing this on the morning after the San Antonio Spurs’ brutal Game Seven loss against the Denver Nuggets.

A game where you could argue San Antonio easily could’ve brought it home, but unfortunately took the L in a fashion that’s tough to swallow the more you think about it.

This piece will be a highlighting how the Denver Nuggets finally took care of the San Antonio Spurs in a seven-game first round series. I will be diving in to the five most impactful aspects of the series that led to the fall of San Antonio.

This read isn’t going to be a shot at anybody in particular, and it’s not going to be a matter of disrespect or ripping of anyone’s ability on the court.

This is simply what I saw in this incredibly entertaining playoff series, and what it says about this year’s Spurs squad.

Next: 1. Denver sent help on almost every LaMarcus Aldridge possession:

DENVER, CO – APRIL 27: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs handles the ball against the Denver Nuggets during Game Seven of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO – APRIL 27: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs handles the ball against the Denver Nuggets during Game Seven of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

1. Denver sent help on almost every LaMarcus Aldridge possession:

This may seem pretty simple, but it was a strategy that was affective throughout the series for Denver.

Coach Mike Malone rallied his troops and sent a zero blitz on nearly every position where LaMarcus Aldridge touched the ball.

In an obvious mismatch, whether it be against Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, or Mason Plumlee, LMA would normally be deciding what side dish he wanted with his barbecue chicken.

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While there were times where Aldrdige would get the one-on-one and often get the better end of it, you had guys like Gary Harris, Torrey Craig, Will Barton, and Malik Beasley among others who would attack Aldridge the second the ball was thrown his way.

Forcing LMA to become a pass-first big man is definitely what you want if you’re the Denver Nuggets, even though Aldridge has grown as a passer during his career.

Now this would mean that someone must be open if the Nuggets were consistently sending double teams, which leads me directly into my next point.

Next: 2. Denver closed out and contested every shot

DENVER, CO – APRIL 27: Bryn Forbes #11 of the San Antonio Spurs passes the ball against the Denver Nuggets during Game Seven of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO – APRIL 27: Bryn Forbes #11 of the San Antonio Spurs passes the ball against the Denver Nuggets during Game Seven of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)

2. Denver closed out and contested every shot

Patty Mills went 13.6% from three. Davis Bertan shot 27% from 3. Derrick White cooled off after the first three games to shoot 28% from deep.

While there were some players who found success shooting from downtown like Bryn Forbes, more often than no, Denver’s defensive rotations, closeouts, and communication were so precise that they made San Antonio shooters pass up looks consistently.

The Spurs simply couldn’t find a way to manufacture open shots against this swarming Nuggets defense. For a team that usually plays with such excellent ball movement, precision passing, and unselfishness, San Antonio couldn’t find very many open looks on a consistent basis.

Even guys like Marco Belenelli, who has never seen a three-point attempt that he didn’t like, never got up more than four shots from deep up in a game during this series, while only making 1 trey ball a game.

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They limited his shot selection to the point where Marco had no choice but to take his patented cross body, leaning, one leg lifted above his head, three point shot. It got to a point to where if he was open for a spot-up, uncontested three, he would shoot it far left or far right, barely touching the rim.

Denver’s defense made the Spurs’ offense very stagnant at times. It threw off San Antonio’s offensive rhythm and made it even tougher for them to get back in transition and play solid defense.

Adding to that, you had guys like DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, and LaMarcus Aldridge, who thrive in the midrange, get a contested look nearly every time. I know midrange jumpshots are lost in this day and age, and a lot of them are contested, but it was an abnormal rate of contested shots those guys were taking.

It’s not necessarily a knock against the Spurs’ offense, but it just shows you how good Mike Malone’s defense really was. Denver’s coaching was superb all series.

Next: 3. Denver’s young players didn’t show their age

DENVER, CO – APRIL 27: Nikola Jokic #15, and Gary Harris #14 of the Denver Nuggets exchange hi-fives against the San Antonio Spurs during Game Seven of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO – APRIL 27: Nikola Jokic #15, and Gary Harris #14 of the Denver Nuggets exchange hi-fives against the San Antonio Spurs during Game Seven of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)

3. Denver’s young players didn’t show their age

It’s no secret that the Nuggets have a very young team.

The knock on Denver going in to this playoff series was that the Spurs’ experience could give San Antonio a major advantage. While that almost came true, Denver had enough confidence in their youth to bring it home and you have to applaud them for that.

While guys like Will Barton did not shoot well from the field, any struggle that Denver had offensively they more than made up for it on the other end.

Malik Beasley (22), Monte Morris (23), Gary Harris (24), and Jamal Murray (21) all came to play when it mattered most.

Even when guys like Murray did struggle and his patience was tested, his effort never wavered, and as you saw in Game Seven, it all came together when he needed to hit the shot to seal the game.

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Guys like Morris and Beasley were flying all over the court on both ends.

Denver had heart, grit and determination.

To single him out, Gary Harris really hooped in this series. The young man came with his shooting sleeve and his sneakers and went to work.

In the big moments, he never shied away. When he needed to get hot, he got hot.

Harris is the type of basketball player that every NBA team needs. Not to put this pressure on him, but I see a lot of Lou Will in that man. He’s going to be an issue in this league for a minute.

While younger teams typically play with high effort, you tend to see them falter over the stretch of a seven game series. While they certainly had their struggles, Denver always made sure to bounce back even stronger.

The heart and determination of this young team really showed. It was beautiful to see, I just wish it wasn’t against the Spurs.

Next: 4. Taking advantage of the mismatch

DENVER, CO – APRIL 27: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets handles the ball against the San Antonio Spurs during Game Seven of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO – APRIL 27: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets handles the ball against the San Antonio Spurs during Game Seven of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)

4. Taking advantage of the mismatch

Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic, Mason Plumlee all had a hearty meal this series. They must be sponsored by Windex, because they were cleaning the glass streakless.

It got to a point to where you could see some players on the Spurs throw their arms up in frustration. These guys have that gene for rebounding.

It may sound ridiculous and exaggerated, but not every big man has that nose for the ball on rebounds. It’s a skill and a trait that is very underrated.

Denver consistently got offensive rebounds in crucial points of the game. Their effort rebounding the ball was sensational.

Every time on the court, they knew they had a mismatch on the glass, especially when the Nuggets wereon offense.

Guys like Rudy Gay, David Bertans, and LaMarcus Aldridge had BIG trouble with Jokic, Millsap and even Plumlee.

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Plumlee is a gritty player, one that enjoys rebounds, blocks and lobs. He gave the Spurs trouble, big time. A lot of the time, Rudy Gay or Davis Bertrans would be switched on to him, and that was easy pickings for Plumlee.

This is not a slight at Davis or Rudy because these guys are four inches shorter than Plumlee and not as strong as Denver’s backup center. It’s god-given. It’s smart basketball.

Paul Millsap also had a very underrated series. His phenomenal footwork, high IQ, veteran leadership, and really stout defense were essential to Denver’s success.

He was one of the big emotional leaders of the team inthis series. A lot of what he did didn’t show up on the stat sheet, but every time Millsap was in, he seemed to make things happen.

He didn’t have the athletic advantage over Rudy Gay, but his skill level helped him win that matchup. Millsap came to play.

Next: 5. Nikola Jokic

DENVER, CO – APRIL 27: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets plays defense against the San Antonio Spurs during Game Seven of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO – APRIL 27: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets plays defense against the San Antonio Spurs during Game Seven of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)

5. Nikola Jokic

Yes, that 7-foot Serbian man gave San Antonio the business.

He was a demon on the boards averaging nearly four offensive rebounds a game.

Jokic has excellent footwork in the post, and he is a very smart player.

His passing is generational. Jokic has that passing gift that guys like Larry Bird, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Steve Nash, John Stockton and others possess.

His shooting is out of this world. Jokic can knock down three-pointers like it’s nobody’s business.  Every single time he gets the ball and puts it up, you think it’s going in.

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Jokic even got the job done on the defensive end of the floor. He won’t wow you with his defense like Al Horford will, but you know what? He does his job.

Jokic knows his role, and he gives you high effort. That’s all you can expect and that’s all you can ask for.

If Jokic gives you that, you take it and go. He was great on both ends of the court.

Many will say that this was his coming out party, but he already blew out the candles and the cake is all gone. He’s been here.

Next: Conclusion

DENVER, CO – APRIL 27: Patty Mills #8, and Head Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs are seen together against the Denver Nuggets during Game Seven of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO – APRIL 27: Patty Mills #8, and Head Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs are seen together against the Denver Nuggets during Game Seven of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)

Conclusion

In closing, this series was very tough to swallow.

San Antonio was right there, and after a disastrous performance for much of game seven, you know the entire staff is kicking themselves.

I think if Denver and San Antonio were to play 10 or 20 times, the series would be split right in half. They match up so well that a couple of players making big shots and an adjustment here or there won the series.

It was very close, but all in all Denver deserved to win.

San Antonio has a very bright future though, and with an offseason that could bring about some changes, they have a lot of things going in their direction.

The most relieving news coming out of this series is that Gregg Popovich is likely returning next year. As long as you have the greatest coach of all-time, anything can happen.

The Spurs have a lot of young talent on this roster, two first-round draft picks this offseason, and players who will continue to progress in this system.

The confidence is there, and while almost every analyst on television counted the Spurs out this season, once again they made the playoffs.

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Next. Three questions the Spurs needs to address this summer

That’s the story of San Antonio.

They will continue to exceed expectations, and maybe next year they’ll be able to finish off a series and move on to the second round. Stay tuned to Air Alamo to see what type of moves they make this offseason to put them in position to build on this year’s success.

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