The San Antonio Spurs didn’t look like they wanted to leave their play-in hopes to chance. They surged to a huge first half lead against the Denver Nuggets thanks to a big second quarter, finishing with a 64-44 advantage at halftime. They did this thanks to a strong combined effort between Devin Vassell, Tre Jones, and Zach Collins, who were all in double figures as they scored 37 total in the half. That was big because Keldon Johnson battled foul trouble, having been whistled three times before halftime.
San Antonio also used defense to create offense throughout the first half.
The Spurs, who were heavy underdogs for the game in Denver, did that good old Coach Pop thing and passed the ball around to guarantee collective success. They had 16 assists at the half and 31 at the end of the game, continuing to cement their status as the league’s top assists team this season.
Nikola Jokic had 21 points at halftime, but didn’t get a lot of help from the rest of the Nuggets. The rest of his team barely outscored him as they barely outscored him with 23 collective points. As expected, this frustrated the Joker, and he earned himself a technical foul near the end of the second quarter after a missed foul call. He finished the game with 41 points, 17 rebounds, four assists and two steals with two turnovers.
Jokic started to get more help in the third quarter, as the Nuggets roared back to life as they’ve done so many times this season. They made it a game in the third quarter, eventually cutting the deficit to single digits before the Spurs had their own run to close things off. Johnson came back to life in the second half and finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and three assists while continuing to battle foul trouble. Vassell also finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists. A total of six Spurs scored in double figures.
The 116-97 win was huge for the Spurs, because they’ve now guaranteed their berth in the play-in tournament ahead of schedule. The Lakers, who needed a perfect 4-0 run while the Spurs finished 1-3 or 0-4 over their last four games, lost to the Suns to take themselves out of the running.
This Spurs team isn’t the most talented, but for the second year in a row, they’re going to get a chance to bring Coach Pop back the playoffs. As someone who remembers watching Tim Duncan win his first title live on TV, I get a bit of nostalgia watching Pop still finding ways to maximize his team’s talents. They’re not going to win a title any time soon, but the Spurs certainly look like they at least want to try to win.