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Nikola Jokic won the battle, but the San Antonio Spurs won the war.
Jokic, the Denver Nuggets center, became the fourth player in NBA history to put up a triple-double in his first playoff game and the first since LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2006.
However, the Spurs bagged a road win in Game 1 of their first-round series Saturday night, claiming a 101-96 verdict.
What did the triple-double mean to Jokic?
“To be honest, nothing,” Jokic told reporters after putting up 10 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists.
Led by LaMarcus Aldridge’s suffocating defense on Jokic — he took only nine shots, making just four in being held to less than half of his regular-season scoring average — DeMar DeRozan’s 18 points and a clinching steal by Derrick White in the closing seconds, to Spurs stole Game 1 and homecourt advantage in the series.
“We didn’t let Jokic play as he wanted and they didn’t let LaMarcus play as much as he wanted,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “It is important because they are both great players and they are going to continue to get a lot of attention throughout the series.”
Aldridge, who shot just 6-of-19 along the way to 15 points, said this is what everyone can expect the rest of the way in this whole series, too.
“Both bigs kind of never really got comfortable down there. When you have two bigs that are so big for your team, it’s going to be like that,” Aldridge said. “We did a good job of just trying to mix it up on him. They did the same thing on me.”
Nuggets coach Michael Malone said he wasn’t looking for Jokic, his All-Star center, to take more shots.
“Every time he put it down, there was somebody right there. They trapped him every time,” Malone said. “So, I think Nikola has a high IQ. He’s going to make the right play. Unfortunately, we didn’t make them pay for double-teaming enough.”
Denver was limited to 42-percent shooting, including only 21 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. The Nuggets also missed eight free throws in the loss.
“I think if we’re making shots, it becomes a lot harder to double-team him consistently,” Malone said. “They stayed with it because we couldn’t make a shot. So, that was the tough thing about it. But I love Nikola’s approach. I love his play-making. I love his passing.”
Up three with 6.9 seconds remaining, White — playing in his first playoff game — stole the basketball from Denver’s Jamal Murray and made two free throws to seal the deal, finishing with 15 points. Odds were the Nuggets weren’t likely to make a game-tying 3-pointer considering they shot just 6-of-28 from deep in the game.
— K3LböinKs (@Kelboinks888) April 14, 2019
White also provided the play of the game with his posterization of Nuggets big man Paul Millsap.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 14, 2019
“He was spectacular,” Popovich said of White. “For somebody who got put in that position and to learn that position with a bunch of new players, it’s really remarkable what he’s done. Hopefully, he’ll continue to play that way because it’s going to be a long series.”
“He was spectacular.”
— NBA TV (@NBATV) April 14, 2019
Game 2 is Tuesday night in Denver.
The Spurs’ victory made it three victories by road teams on Day 1 of the playoffs Saturday, following the lead of the Nets winning at Philadelphia and the Magic prevailing at Toronto. Only the two-time defending-champion Warriors managed to prevail in Game 1, blowing past the Los Angeles Clippers at Oracle Arena.