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Big nights from Johnson, Jones not enough as Nuggets outlast Spurs

Tre Jones and Keldon Johnson combined for 50 points, but late turnovers cost San Antonio the game.

By: Lucas Oliva I Nov. 8, 2022, 11:00 am EST

Tre Jones and Devin Vassell during a FT attempt by the Nuggets. (Photo by Reginal Thomas II/San Antonio Spurs)

The Spurs went into their second straight matchup against the Nuggets hungry for a win. Coming off a tough three-game losing streak, Devin Vassell would see his first start back from injury, as well as a ten minute increase in minutes from the back-back slate. Vassell and Johnson were flamethrowers to begin the first 12 minutes of action, with both of their early scoring efforts resulting in 20 points for the Spurs. Conversely, Jokic and Porter Jr. got to work early, providing the offensive punch Denver needed to keep up with the Spurs duo. Richardson also looked aggressive out the gates, knocking down his first three-pointer and initiating contact at the rim. The first quarter was a dogfight between the ball clubs, leaving the game even at 28-28 going into the second quarter.

Doug McDermott was inserted into the lineup to begin the second, and he got straight to work, scoring 9 points for the Spurs in just under 6 minutes. Richardson also continued his hot start, knocking down pull-up jumpers and tough mid-range looks. Tre Jones would only pile onto this effort, adding needed pressure at the rim, getting around the defense for quality attempts at the rim. Despite these strong contributions, the Spurs would only find themselves up by 5 points with 2:24 left to go in the quarter. However, the momentum shifted in the wrong direction as the Nuggets went on a quick 10-2 run to end the quarter. Most notably, Porter Jr. hit a pull-up and-one three in transition, putting the Nuggets in the lead. Add some free-throws for the reigning MVP Jokic and the Nuggets were up 3 going into the half.

Tre and Keldon couldn’t be stopped to start the half, inciting an early 11-3 run to put the Spurs up 5. Porter Jr. wouldn’t let up though, responding with 7 points in three minutes. Jokic continued his offensive onslaught with dimes and take at the rim, with the Spurs having no answer to the Nuggets duo. The spurs would go down as much as 9 before late quarter shot-making from Vassell, Richardson and Bates-Diop chipped the lead down to 5. Bad transition defense and efficient offense from the Nuggets were the real difference makers for the Nuggets this quarter, giving them the ability to easily retaliate any time the Spurs dwindled the lead.

Turnovers and good defense were the name of the game for the Spurs to begin the final stretch of basketball. Both teams found themselves committing three turnovers early, with no early offense for either team being in sight. Deandre Jordan finally broke that streak with a tip-in dunk, only for Vassell and Jones to retaliate with buckets of their own. The game continued to be hard fought, with neither end gaining a significant edge. All-around efforts from the team would put the Spurs up 1, but the Nuggets wouldn’t let up any pressure, giving the Nuggets a two-point advantage with a minute to go. Unfortunately, Josh Richardson would rack up two turnovers in a row to end the game, giving the Nuggets the last laugh, winning 115-109.

The Starters:

  • There were alot of strong contributions from our starting 5, namely in Tre Jones and Keldon Johnson. They combined for 50 points, both shooting extremely accurately in their time on the floor. One point of concern last night was turnovers for Keldon however, as he accumulated 6 throughout the game. He hesitated from shooting a couple times, leading to drives to the rim which were a sizable part of his turnovers. While it’s not much to worry about, it shows the youth of this team, and that decision-making still needs to improve. Vassell on the other hand, struggled on offense. He shot well from downtown but we saw increased off-dribble and pick and roll shots for him. While I would consider these shots good looks for Vassell, he just wasn’t knocking them down tonight. No cause for panic though, as we’ve seen him take and make these shots in the last two games he's played. Jakob only took three shots, which leaves some aggressiveness to be desired. On the other hand, it didn’t look like the Spurs were particularly looking to get Jakob involved in the scoring effort. It’s possible Pop chose to focus on perimeter play to drive Jokic out of the paint and open layup opportunities for the rest of the guys. The defense was also there for the starters, with every player netting at least 2 steals down the stretch. Overall, the starters played well, and showed that they can run with some of the best teams in the league.

The Bench:

  • Not a ton to note on the bench last night. McDermott looked really good in the second quarter, but couldn’t get much else to go for him as the game went on. His running mate Josh Richardson must have read my article yesterday though, as he dramatically stepped up his play last night. A large part of this was due to him seeing increased minutes playing alongside Tre Jones, allowing him to get to his spots, and create shots that he’s more comfortable with. This was the Josh Richardson we’ve grown to know and love on offense. Although, in the minutes where he was the one running the ball up the court, the offense once again slowed down. Just like Keldon, Richardson racked up 6 turnovers last night, with a shocking 4 of them coming in the last 12 minutes of action. Not a great sign there, and it all comes back to the point that it just isn’t where he thrives. Bates-Diop was solid, did what he usually does with hustle plays and shots at the rim. Roby only got two minutes of action so not much there. The most interesting bit of last night for the bench though, was the addition of recently signed Charles Bassey in the rotation. While he won’t see minutes once Collins returns, Bassey provided good spot minutes for us. He was a lob threat and was surprisingly strong on the defensive end. Sometimes a little over-active, but overall a good performance for his first real game!

The Rookies:

  • Not much to say on Sochan outside of what we usually see. Good to see he continues to be willing to take the three-ball even if it’s not dropping. A really strong defensive game for him though, as he put up 2 steals and a block in his 28 minutes of action. That defensive game is truly what makes him special, albeit he struggles with being overactive at times much like Bassey. Branham didn’t see any playing time tonight, likely due to Vassell being lifted of his minutes restriction.

The Spurs fall below .500 to 5-6 as their next game comes Wednesday night against the Grizzlies. Ja Morant will without a doubt be a tough assignment as he has a history of torching the Spurs, so the adjustments being made will be fun to watch!


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