The San Antonio Spurs had pushed the much more talented Denver Nuggets to a final seventh game in their first-round matchup. After absorbing strong scoring efforts from their opponent’s stars, Gregg Popovich’s team stormed back in the second half and eroded a strong double-digit lead down to a one-possession game. Following a floater from Jamal Murray to put the Nuggets up 90-86, DeMar Derozan tried to respond with a short-range shot of his own, but Torrey Craig got there for the block. San Antonio was down four with less than 30 seconds remaining. All this incredibly resilient team had to do was foul to at least have a chance at keeping their postseason alive. Instead, they just kind of laid down and died.
As the clock was winding down, LaMarcus Aldridge just watched Nikola Jokic dribble the clock down to less than 10 seconds and pass the ball to Jamal Murray, who put up a shot that drained the final five seconds away. This clearly wasn’t the game plan as Popovich, along with two other assistants, could be seen screaming at players to foul Jokic and send him to the line. But the Denver crowd did its job and pumped in so much noise that the message never reached Aldridge’s ears.
Let’s make one thing clear: the Spurs’ chances of coming back even if they had fouled were pretty slim. Even if Jokic only makes one of those baskets, it’s still a two-possession game that requires a level of pace that San Antonio just doesn’t play with. That being said, it’s jarring to see a team led by one of the greatest coaches in NBA history just lay down on the tracks as the train is coming. Popovich clearly understood that the mental error lost the game, and was a bit surly responding to a question about it in his postgame press conference.
It’s certainly a testament to how powerful Denver’s home-court advantage is that those in the crowd could affect this game in such a meaningful way. With so much modern technology being available to limit the damage of constant travel on players, it’s not often that that kind of advantage gets utilized in today’s game. It’s something that will definitely come in handy against the Nuggets’ second-round series against the Trail Blazers. Of course, given how loud the crowd in Portland can be, it’s highly likely that this kind of late-game tinnitus finds a way to affect both teams equally.