Moore: Why the Nuggets’ Team Total Offers Value in Game 5 vs. Spurs

Moore: Why the Nuggets’ Team Total Offers Value in Game 5 vs. Spurs article feature image

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Nikola Jokic

  • Matt Moore breaks down where the value is on the Denver Nuggets' team total for Tuesday night's Game 5 against the San Antonio Spurs.

It’s funny the turns a playoff series can take.

The Nuggets lost Game 1 in miserable, frustrating fashion as they simply could not get shots to fall, then barely escaped with a win after a similar performance in the opening three quarters of Game 2. Take the temperature then, and things boded poorly. Then they were waxed in Game 3, a predictable loss by a team in its first road playoff game facing a team coming off a loss.

But then there was Game 4, in which Denver once again started cold, took off and never looked back in the second half.

You can make noise about it being 2-2 and Denver barely being tied. Or you can look at it this way: Denver has now won two of three — including one on the road — and retaken home court. Where’s the momentum now?

(It’s nowhere. Momentum is not a thing in this series and the Nuggets can lose or win Game 5 and it will have no impact on Game 6.)

If you want the biggest reason to believe things are slowly turning more for the 2-seed Nuggets, and if you want an opportunity to find value in their team total over/under of 108.5, it lies in this chart:

The Nuggets have shifted this series slowly toward a more offensive-centric series, and that’s right in their wheelhouse. They have more weapons, their shot profile is much more modern and efficient, and they are playing with more pace, which makes the Spurs uncomfortable. (The two Nuggets’ wins were also the two highest-paced games of the series.)

The Nuggets have gotten more downhill. What’s more, it’s hard to see clear and obvious adjustments the Spurs can generate to slow them down. In Game 1, the Spurs sent double after double at Nikola Jokic in the post, forcing the ball out of his hand and getting Denver’s jittery young players standing still bricking shots.

Since then, the Nuggets have ran more and more pick-and-roll and hand-off action, which has absolutely carved up the Spurs.

Getting Jamal Murray on the move has helped break his offense open. LaMarcus Aldridge isn’t comfortable hedging and playing at the level of the screen, so he’s dropping. The Spurs are largely comfortable making Murray beat them with shots off the dribble in pick-and-roll … except Murray was 51st-percentile on runners this season, good enough to make the Spurs pay for it:

Murray has had several of those looks, and if he knocks them down, the Spurs don’t have much of a counter that doesn’t include leaving themselves open for bigger issues.

Things got so bad for the Spurs trying to contain Murray and Jokic, who ran action at them over and over again, that the Nuggets got a bucket off Derrick White anticipating Murray going over the screen before a vicious reverse cut:

And if the defense keys in on Murray, he’s gotten better at making the immediate read and getting it back to Jokic, who when guarded by Jakob Poeltl (a very good defender), is pretty much unstoppable:

This a key change from Game 1 and 2: The Nuggets are getting the ball to Jokic off the screen and on the move. Even his post-ups are coming off sequences like this with Gary Harris running a dribble-hand-off into a pick-and-roll, and then into a post-up.

It makes it much harder for the Spurs to send the hard double, it gets the Nuggets moving where they’re more comfortable, and it gets Jokic space to work vs. Poeltl:

And then there’s Harris, who has shot 7-of-16 from deep since Game 1 of this series and continues to be the metronome for the offense, steadily helping it keep rhythm:

Here’s the Nuggets’ shot chart in Game 1:

And here’s the Nuggets’ shot chart in Games 3 and 4, which includes that dispiriting Game 3 loss:

The Nuggets have gotten better offensively as this series goes on, and San Antonio doesn’t have the personnel to counter it effectively. They can drag a little bit, but if the Nuggets continue to perform to even a normal level of offensive execution — even in a loss like in Game 2 — they should clear 110 points.

There’s value on the Nuggets over 108.5.

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