Jamal Murray’s 23 points led six Nuggets in double figures, and Denver routed the San Antonio Spurs 108-90 Tuesday night to move within one win of its first playoff series triumph in a decade.
Up 3 games to 2, the Nuggets can wrap up the series Thursday night in San Antonio, where they won last weekend for the first time since 2012, regaining the home-court advantage.
The Nuggets, who posted the best home record in the NBA and ended a six-year playoff drought by earning a surprising second seed in the Western Conference, finally looked like the team that rolled through the regular season led by All-Star Nikola Jokic and backed up by the best bench in the league.
Jokic had 16 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, and Denver led by as many 30 points at 99-69, after which their starters took a seat.
“He’s a great player,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “I mean, every great player is a challenge. And he can do a little bit of everything, and he does all of those things well. He’s the consummate team player who has great skills, but he’s also competitive, does a great job, has got a very high basketball IQ.”
Paul Millsap chipped in 14 points as the Nuggets’ most experienced player in the playoffs bounced back from a four-point performance in Game 4 that ended his streak of 16 consecutive playoff games with double-digit scoring.
DeMar DeRozen and LaMarcus Aldridge each scored 17 for San Antonio, but Denver dominated this one almost from the tip.
For the first time in the series, the Nuggets outrebounded the Spurs (49-42) and won the first quarter.
“They just outplayed us in every facet of the game,” Popovich said. “We missed a lot of chippies in the first half. It could have been a much more even game in the first half. We missed a lot at the rim. But I think overall, their competitiveness, they got five 3s in the first quarter, they just played well in every way.
“We’ve got to have more guys playing well. That’s for sure.”
The Nuggets led 26-19 after one quarter. Denver had been outscored in the first quarter in all four games and by a total of 31 points, which didn’t sit well with coach Michael Malone, who said before tipoff, “I think it’s important for us to win the first quarter, but not only to match the intensity and their aggressiveness, to exceed it. We have to come out with a hit-first mentality.”
The Nuggets used a 13-3 run in the second half to take an 11-point lead into the locker room at 53-42, and they raced out to a 65-44 lead less than six minutes into the second half on the strength of a 12-2 spurt coming out of the halftime break.
Their lead ballooned to 30 points on Malik Beasley’s bucket that made it 99-69.
Spurs point guard Derrick White was held in check again — he had 12 points after scoring eight Saturday night. He averaged 23 in the first three games, including a career-best 36 in Game 3, before Malone inserted Torrey Craig into the starting lineup in place of Will Barton, which allowed Gary Harris to guard White.
“I think our guys realized after the first three games Derrick White was the early MVP of this series,” Malone said. “And we’ve done a really good job in the last couple of games of trying to negate his impact. And that’s been a big part of our success in the last two.”
Popovich said what he’s seen in White these last two games is “he’s basically a young kid who’s feeling his way. Playoffs are different than the regular season. And he’s growing and every night is an education, whether he plays poorly or whether he’s great. So, he’s a willing young man, going to have a great future. But he’s got to have this kind of experience. So, hopefully he’ll bounce back on Thursday.”
San Antonio: The Spurs struggled on the road during the regular season, going 16-25. They’re now 1-2 away from home in this series. If they win Thursday night, they’ll return to the Pepsi Center for Game 7 on Saturday night.
Denver: Broncos star linebacker Von Miller missed the pregame free throw before taking in the game with kicker Brandon McManus. … Also in attendance were several members of the Colorado Avalanche, including Nathan MacKinnon and Erik Johnson. The Avs have advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Should the Nuggets also advance, it would mark the first time since the Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver in 1995 and became the Avalanche that the city’s NBA and NHL franchises both advanced to the second round in the same season.
Game 6 is Thursday night in San Antonio.
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