Spurs History: Derrick White’s breakout series against the Denver Nuggets

DENVER, COLORADO - APRIL 27: Derrick White #4 of the San Antonio Spurs is fouled by Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets in the second quarter during Game Seven of the first round of the 2019 NBA Western Conference Playoffs at the Pepsi Center on April 27, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
DENVER, COLORADO - APRIL 27: Derrick White #4 of the San Antonio Spurs is fouled by Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets in the second quarter during Game Seven of the first round of the 2019 NBA Western Conference Playoffs at the Pepsi Center on April 27, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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Derrick White’s season-ending performance against his hometown Denver Nuggets proved that the San Antonio Spurs guard was here to stay

Other than Lonnie Walker‘s 2OT thriller against the Houston Rockets and LaMarcus Aldridge extending his game behind the arc, San Antonio Spurs fans didn’t get many surprises this year. At least not the kind that we had been hoping for. What a difference a year makes.

Just about a year ago, Derrick White was leading the 7th seeded San Antonio Spurs to a first-round near upset of the Denver Nuggets. A questionable lack of fouls at the end of Game 7 would eventually hand Denver the series win but we learned a lot about the Spurs second-year guard over the course of the seven games.

Moved into a starting role in mid-December, White surprised many Spurs fans as he came in as the unheralded rookie who would end up being the stabilizing force the team needed as they navigated a complicated and difficult season.

Following the tradition of Spurs rookies, White spent much of his first season in Austin. In year two, injuries to Dejounte Murray forced him into a starting role midway through the season, after he had recovered from injuries of his own. He would start 55 games, help pull the Spurs into the playoffs, and set himself up for a first-round showdown with his hometown Nuggets.

Behind the behind of their seven-foot point center, Nikola Jokic, the Denver Nuggets had spent most of the season carving through opposing defenses on their way to posting one of the best offensive ratings in the league. It’s foolish to ever completely count the Spurs out but most pundits were skeptical and didn’t give them much of a chance. Most pundits hadn’t counted on Derrick White stepping up.

White’s performance during the season was important to the Spurs but wasn’t all that impressive to your average fan. It’s not like he was posting Ja Morant numbers, White was averaging 9.9 points, 3.9 assists, and 3.7 rebounds per game on close to 26 minutes a night. He took that to the next level during the playoffs.

He turned up the scoring and averaged 15 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists per night on near 27 minutes per night. He hardly ever led the Spurs in any of the aforementioned categories but was regularly in the top 3 on the team in both points and assists.

He certainly started off the series with a bang, detonating on Paul Millsap in Game 1 for what’s probably the most impressive dunk of his career up until this point.

He would follow that up with the best game of his young career in Game 3 of the series. Tied with one win apiece, the Spurs and Nuggets headed south for Game 3. White was spectacular, spinning and slicing through Nuggets defenders on his way to a career-best 36 points on 15-21 shooting from the floor.

His steal leading to a breakaway dunk just before the end of the first half sent the AT&T Center into a frenzy. When all was said and done White had put on the best performance of his career, on the biggest stage he had played on yet, against the team he grew up rooting for. You can’t write it any better than that.

You know how it ends, Spurs fans. Despite White’s best efforts the team would eventually come up short in Game 7 and let the Nuggets advance on to the next round. Even still, White’s emergence under the bright lights was a great way to end what had otherwise been an underwhelming season.

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Spurs fans knew about Derrick White before this series but his performance across these seven games, especially that nasty dunk on poor Paul Millsap, was White’s way of letting the rest of the NBA know that he was, and is the real deal.

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