• In a do-or-die situation, the Spurs had their best shooting performance of the series to top the Nuggets and force a winner-take-all Game 7. LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay combined for 70 points in the victory.
By Rohan Nadkarni
April 25, 2019

Sometimes, it simply comes down to making shots. The Spurs forced a Game 7 in their first-round series against the Nuggets with a 120–103 win, thanks almost entirely to their best shooting night of the matchup in a do-or-die situation. And now, the teams will head back to Denver to decide the winner on Saturday.

The Spurs were incredibly hot Thursday night. DeMar DeRozan shot 75% from the field. LaMarcus Aldridge shot 55.6%. Rudy Gay 63.6%. In fact, the only players on San Antonio to shoot under 50% were Patty Mills (3-of-12) and Dante Cunningham (0-of-1). As a team, the Spurs connected on an absurd 57.1% of their field goals, including 41.7% from three. San Antonio was an efficient team during the regular season, and it hasn’t played poorly during this series, but the Spurs were on a completely different level in Game 6. The shotmaking was impressive. Denver’s defense wasn’t breaking down left and right, the Spurs just seemingly played with a level of focus that made it impossible for them to miss. It was all too much for the Nuggets, who didn’t collapse in the moment but also didn’t capitalize on opportunities to close out.

Nikola Jokic was spectacular, recording a career-high 43 points, along with 12 assists and nine rebounds. Jokic was 19-of-30 from the field, and in his first ever closeout game—on the road nonetheless!—he played one of the best games of his life. After starting this series passively, Jokic displayed the aggression expected of players of his caliber. He excelled in all aspects, and he gave Denver a legitimate chance to advance with his big night.

However, Denver started the game a little leaky, while the Spurs never relented. The Nuggets missed a cadre of open threes, and also got sloppy around the rim. While San Antonio was hilariously efficient from inefficient spots—the Spurs scored 40 points from midrange—Denver was getting the shots it wanted but not hitting them. Jamal Murray struggled, and no one from the bench was able to hit a three. (San Antonio’s bench outscored Denver’s 36 to 13.) The Nuggets ultimately shot only 25% from three, and the bench faltered from late in the third headed into the fourth, and those were the two biggest factors in the loss.

So what happens in Game 7? The Spurs likely won’t put up a [checks notes] 133.3 offensive rating again. Denver’s role players will probably shoot a bit better on their home floor. (The Nuggets, even with their struggles, put up a 114.4 offensive rating Thursday.) Through six games, the teams have been fairly evenly matched, separated by only nine points. This late in a series, there’s no magic formula or epic strategic switch to be made by these coaches. Maybe Mike Malone will tighten Denver’s rotation in Game 7 and have an even shorter leash for his scuffling bench. Maybe Gregg Popovich will push Aldridge’s and DeRozan’s minutes into the 40s.

At this point, Game 7 will come down to the same thing Game 6 did: Execution. If the Nuggets continue to get the shots they earned Thursday, and actually make them, they’ll be in good shape. If the Spurs can again play out of their minds, they’ll have a chance to steal Game 7 on the road. The series finale likely won’t get much more complicated than that.

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