Nuggets respond to Malone’s challenge, top Spurs

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — The last time the Denver Nuggets won a game at San Antonio in 2012, All-Star center Nikola Jokic was 17 years old.

“I was riding horses probably,” he said.

The Nuggets rode out of AT&T Center on Saturday night after doing something this current roster had never done — win at San Antonio. Answering head coach Michael Malone’s challenge to take the fight to the Spurs, the Nuggets erased a 12-point deficit to snap a 14-game losing streak in San Antonio with a 117-103 victory over the Spurs.

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The Nuggets had not won in this building since March 4, 2012, and now they have home-court advantage back after evening the best-of-seven first-round NBA playoff series at 2-2. Game 5 is in Denver on Tuesday.

“I saw a confidence,” Malone said of his team responding to his challenge during the previous few days to play tougher and harder than the Spurs. “I saw a young team that was not thinking about 2012. Because if you think about the last seven years that’s going to overwhelm you. We’re living in the present. We’re living today.”

Denver’s Jamal Murray came back to life again in this series. After having pretty much just one excellent quarter, when he scored 21 points in the fourth to help Denver take Game 2, Murray scored 24 points and dished out 6 assists to lead the Nuggets to victory.

The Spurs were up by 11 with 7 minutes, 46 seconds left in the second quarter when the Nuggets responded with a 20-9 run to even the score at 54-54. In the third quarter, the Spurs trailed by two when the Nuggets hit them with a 20-8 run to take a 14-point lead just before the end of the third. Murray sparked that surge, hitting a 3-pointer as the shot clock was about to expire, putting down an emphatic dunk off a give-and-go from Jokic and then assisting on a Torrey Craig 3-pointer.

“That 3 at the end of the shot clock was big,” said Jokic, who was at his most aggressive offensively in the series with 29 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists. “He needs so little trigger to step to another level. And when he steps to another level, he just brings us all with him.”

Looking to give the Nuggets’ starting lineup a jolt, Malone started Craig in place of the struggling Will Barton, and the move worked. Craig responded with 18 points and 8 rebounds. Barton, who had shot 1-for-13 from behind the arc in the first three games, scored 12 points and buried all three of his 3-point attempts off the bench.

Craig allowed the Nuggets to switch Gary Harris off DeMar DeRozan and onto White. After White lived in the Nuggets’ paint and scored a career-high 36 points in the Spurs’ Game 3 victory, Harris helped hold White to just 8 points and 5 assists Saturday.

White — who got layup after layup and made 12 of 14 shots in the paint alone Thursday night — was held to three baskets at the rim and didn’t score again after a driving layup with 6:24 remaining in the third quarter.

LaMarcus Aldridge, who had 24 points and 9 rebounds, did not play in the fourth quarter as the Nuggets’ lead never dipped under double digits. And DeRozan, who had 19 points, was ejected with 5:01 remaining in the game after he was called for an offensive charge and fired the ball toward official Scott Foster.

“Overall, the Nuggets competed, and we did not,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Their physicality was obvious from the get-go. We knew that was gonna happen, and we did not respond. So it was a very disappointing loss, ’cause I think the Nuggets played harder and smarter than we did.”

Afterward, Murray talked about the Nuggets’ resiliency, something that was on full display in his own game after he was on the receiving end of White’s career night in Game 3.

“I always bounce back,” Murray said.

Murray was just 15 when the Nuggets last won in San Antonio. He doesn’t remember what he was doing or where he was back then.

But he said he will always remember the night Denver’s road losing streak ended in San Antonio.

Said Murray: “I was here tonight.”

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