DENVER — The San Antonio Spurs held Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic to just nine shot attempts and 10 points with timely double teams in Game 1 yet Jokic still became the fourth player ever to record a triple-double in his first playoff game, adding 14 rebounds and 14 assists in Saturday’s 101-96 loss to the Spurs.
Now facing the possibility of falling down 0-2 to start this best-of-seven series, Jokic’s encore to his triple-double playoff debut might have to include more points as the Nuggets look to find ways to free up their All-Star big man for more baskets in Game 2 on Tuesday. San Antonio is expecting Denver to get creative to counter the double-teams for Jokic, who averaged 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 15.1 shots per game this season.
“You say Jokic had a bad game — he had a triple-double,” Spurs forward Rudy Gay said before San Antonio’s practice at the University of Denver on Monday. “He got a lot of shots for a lot of players, rebounding and also scored a little bit. And we still feel like he can play better. So our work is not done with him.
“He can affect a game in so many different ways. Obviously he had 10 points, [but] he is not always going to score [just] 10 points. So we have to be prepared for him to have a big scoring game but also get the win.”
Despite the fact that Jokic became the first player to register a triple-double in his playoff debut since LeBron James did so in 2006, the Nuggets’ big man wasn’t happy with being down 1-0.
“To be honest, nothing,” Jokic said on Saturday of what the triple-double debut meant. “Just because it’s [my] first, doesn’t really mean nothing to me.”
The Nuggets might try posting Jokic up early and having him look to initiate his offense earlier. Denver head coach Mike Malone said that anytime Jokic put the ball on the floor, San Antonio smothered the big man with multiple defenders.
“He can look to go quicker,” Malone said of Jokic looking to initiate his offense earlier. “I think that is one thing, try to attack. He did it one or two times, caught it really deep in the post and went right away before they could get there. Give them credit, they did a helluva job. Every time he literally put the ball on the floor, somebody was right there.
“That is what you love about Nikola: 14 assists, 14 rebounds, 10 points,” Malone continued. “Love to find ways to get him more field goal attempts and have him impact [the game] with his scoring but he is going to make the right read. Early post-ups, getting him the ball in different areas, and even in the half-court, maybe he can attack before they come get him.”
LaMarcus Aldridge, who had 15 points in Game 1, knows that he not only will face double-teams from the Nuggets again, but that he and the Spurs will see new wrinkles to get Jokic open on the other end of the floor.
“They’re going to definitely try to get him going, more cross screens, down screens, rip screens,” Aldridge said. “He’s their guy so they are going to try to move him around more and try to make me work and get him more quick shots. I think I’ll be ready for it.”
Of course, even though Jokic didn’t shoot much, the Nuggets had chances to win Game 1 but just couldn’t make enough shots. They missed 22-of-28 3-point attempts and shot 42% from the field overall. The Nuggets want to dictate the pace of the game more than in Game 1, which played at San Antonio’s tempo. Denver failed to score a single fast-break point as the Spurs largely kept the pace of the game to their liking.
While Malone is looking to get Jokic more shots, he wants Jamal Murray to follow in Jokic’s footsteps and be more of a playmaker. During Game 1, Murray scored 17 points but shot just 8-of-24, missed all six of his 3-point attempts and had zero assists, something Malone said he would like to see change in Game 2.
Murray also missed an open 18-foot pull-up that could have put the Nuggets ahead with 9.4 seconds left. Malone said he would take that same shot from Murray to win the game again.
Following Game 1, a frustrated Murray spent close to an hour shooting shots on the Nuggets’ practice floor.
“Just look ahead,” Murray said of his mentality entering Game 2. “I can’t go back [to Game 1]… I know I’ll have another opportunity in Game 2.
“We’re going to settle down, we’re going to have a lot of fun and get out on a run. Coming back from [all sorts of] adversity all season, injuries and all that, come from behind wins and all that, so this is no different. We are going to bounce back and I look forward to it.”