San Antonio Spurs vs. Denver Nuggets
In the regular season talent almost always edges strategy. Talent is the paper that covers the rock on most nights. Coaches have no time to prepare for teams on back to backs and have limited strategy sessions when traveling on one day’s rest. Your team’s offense will be mostly the same from game to game but you can’t react to the other team’s schemes…until the playoffs. It’s why Russell Westbrook can average a triple double over three years but win only 4 playoff games. It’s why the Warriors win a record 73 games but can’t win the ship. It’s why no one in the west wants to draw the Spurs. Come springtime, coaches earn their money.
The Spurs were not even supposed to make the playoffs. Sportsbooks had the Lakers and T-Wolves favored to squeak in here. Tony Parker left and Manu retired. Kawhi fled the country. But! That’s okay! This kid Dejounte Murray is the real deal! And then just like that he was lost for the season with a torn ACL.
Fortunately for San Antonio, the next man up philosophy and playing team basketball is a powerful thing. Good team defense can be the stuff first round upsets are made of. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Spurs are facing elimination down 3-2 in this series. They are up against what was the league’s best team for most of the season. Let’s look at why the Spurs are a good bet at -3 tonight.
In Game 1 the Spurs stole the Dubb in Denver. It was no fluke. The Spurs came out of the gate with high double teams on Jokic and demanded other players beat them. They did not, shooting 42% overall and 21% from three.
In game 2 Pop kept the script the same knowing the pressure was on Denver to get one at home. The Nuggs made them pay hitting their shots this time, including 41% from behind the arc. In game three D-White was the story but the the Spurs won by giving the Nuggets 62 points in the paint and took 22 points off turnovers. They doubled Murray early to throw the Denver offense off. Murray had a plus/minus of -25, 4 TOs and only 6 points and 2 assists.
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In game 4, the Nuggets won in SA for the first time in 7 years by being +30 from three, shooting 10 percentage points over their average. That was largely the story. The hot shooting came from 25 team assists. LaMarcus let his team down with poor energy and sat the entire 4th period. In Game 5 the teams were back in Denver where the Spurs again were torched from beyond the arc. The Nuggets doubled the Spurs point production from deep again hitting over 40%.
Now we go back to San Antonio where Pop will be expected to help his team defend the three and keep the Nuggets, at the very least, shooting at their season averages. I don’t think a Pop playoff team is going to allow his group to be stretched for the third game and say good night in San Antonio. Shooters hit shots, defensive gurus stop shots, and good coaches make adjustments.
Home Court advantage
There are teams like the Warriors that really don’t care about home court. They play for pride and because they like to win. None of their series will see a game 7. For other teams, homecourt changes the identity of your team. In soccer they call it the 12 man. If homecourt is a player, for the Spurs, it may be their team MVP.
Of 41 home games this series the Spurs have lost 9. One of those was by 1 point. Two others were back to backs or the 3rd game in 4 nights.
Of those remaining losses, all but 1 were against teams that were non-playoff teams with losing records. Yes, the Spurs gave up home losses to the likes of the Bulls, Kings, Grizzlies and Hornets. Among their wins were the Warriors and Nuggets… twice each. My point is that when the home crowd is up for big games the Spurs can’t seem to lose. The Spurs players and fans didn’t get up for the Bulls. The Chicagos don’t win games because they suddenly play well, it’s when the other team’s play bad.
Of course the Nuggets’ big playoff win in the Alamo City dents the confidence in the home crowd and that’s a big reason why the Spurs are giving only 3 tonight.
The Nuggets are a young team that is not playoff battle tested. After the big game 1 loss at home coach Mike Malone highlighted this when talking about his team’s approach to the start of the second season. This same youthful team that “doesn’t know what it doesn’t know” is going to have problems closing out the Spurs early in a game six and doing it back at San Antonio.
Of all the 8 playoff teams in the west only 2 have losing records on the road in the regular season. They both play each other tonight… in San Antonio.
My Pick: Spurs -3