DENVER – DeMar DeRozan finished with a team-high 18 points, Derrick White made impact plays on both sides of the ball and the San Antonio Spurs held off a late fourth-quarter rally to top the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of their opening-round playoff series, 101-96.
San Antonio mounted a 59-51 lead at halftime and looked to be in control, up double digits in the third quarter. The exclamation point to that stretch came with White's thunderous dunk over Paul Millsap -- a play that stopped a 5-0 Nuggets run and swung momentum in the Spurs' favor. White finished with 16 points, one of five Spurs in double figures.
Denver did rally, pulling within a single possession multiple times in the fourth quarter. The difference between victory and defeat was a trio of defensive plays in the final minute. With San Antonio clinging to a 97-96 lead, LaMarcus Aldridge forced a turnover from Nikola Jokic, then secured a defensive rebound on the following possession and was fouled. Aldridge calmly stepped to the line and knocked down a pair of free throws to make it a 3-point game, 99-96 with 6.9 seconds remaining. As Denver's Jamal Murray took the ball upcourt on the ensuing possession, looking for a potential game-tying three, Derrick White made the biggest defensive play of the game, stealing the ball away and drawing a foul to secure the upset.
"[Derrick]'s spectacular," said head coach Gregg Popovich. "For somebody who got put into that position, and to learn that position with a bunch of new players is really remarkable. Hopefully he'll continue to play that way because it's going to be a long series."
"Derrick White has been great all year," DeRozan said. "Seeing his progress from the beginning -- when Dejounte went down -- you see it every single day, every single week, every single month, and to be here in the big moments and see how he steps up, he came up big."
The Spurs defense came to play, holding a potent Denver offense to just 42 percent from the field and just 21.4 percent from beyond the arc.
"We struggled to make shots," said Nuggets head coach Michael Malone. "That third quarter, our defense was phenomenal. We just couldn't score. We had a lot of wide open shots that didn't fall for us tonight, and hopefully they'll fall on Tuesday night."
The biggest reason for the Spurs' defensive success: limiting MVP-candidate Nikola Jokic's impact. Jokic did finish with a triple-double, tallying 14 rebounds and 14 assists, but only notched 10 points on 4 of 9 shooting.
"Jokic is the head of the snake," DeRozan said. "We tried to make everything tough on him and rebound the ball. He still managed to get a triple-double, but it's tough to slow a big guy like that down. Overall, I think we did a good job."
"He and LaMarcus (15 points, 8 rebounds) canceled each other out so to speak," Popovich said. "We didn't let Jokic play as much as he wanted and they didn't let LaMarcus play as much as he wanted. They're both great players, and they're going to continue to get a lot of attention throughout the series, I'm sure."
The Spurs will next take the court at the Pepsi Center for Game 2 of this best-of-7 series this Tuesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m.
OMG. Derrick White unloads on Paul Millsap. Dunk of the night!!— Larry Ramirez (@LRam2) April 14, 2019