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Guard play likely to decide Game 4 between Spurs, Nuggets

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

The first three games of the Western Conference first-round playoff series between second-seeded Denver and seventh-seeded San Antonio have boiled down to which team received better play from its backcourt.

And with today's NBA being guard-oriented, expect that trend to continue when the Spurs host the Nuggets in Game 4 of the series on Saturday afternoon at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.

The Spurs grabbed a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series with a 118-108 home win on Thursday as two pieces of its three-guard attack -- second-year pro Derrick White and veteran DeMar DeRozan -- combined for 61 points.

White's 36 points in Game 3 -- 26 of them in the first half -- were a career high, while DeRozan was at his best in the second half when he racked up 21 of his 25 points.

The Nuggets now have lost 14 straight games in San Antonio, a streak that began on March 4, 2012, when White was a 17-year-old senior at Legend High School in Parker, Colo., about 25 miles southeast of Denver.

"I just had a chip on my shoulder," White said about his performance on Thursday. "This is the way I've played since I was young. Just try to go out there, compete and have fun."

White also drew the primary defensive responsibility on Nuggets' point guard Jamal Murray, the Game 2 hero, and held him to 6 points and just six shots in 31 minutes of court time.

Denver coach Mike Malone praised White for his work on both ends of the floor.

"We couldn't stop him," Malone said about White. "He was impressive. From jump street, he attacked, he got wherever he wanted, and he finished. He was into us defensively. That was a hell of a performance for a young player."

Murray was the difference-maker for the Nuggets in their 114-105 home win on Tuesday, scoring 21 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter to help Denver complete a comeback from 19 points down in the third quarter.

Malone said there was little doubt that White had been reminded, a lot, about Murray's performance in that game.

"White came out like he hadn't eaten in two days," Malone said. "He came out hungry, he came out (ticked) off and he sent a very loud and clear message. I'm anxious to see our guys, how do we respond to that."

Murray said that he took Thursday's one-sided performance against White personally. "I should," he told the Denver Post. "I'll be ready next game. Most the time when I say I'll bounce back, I do."

To capture this series, the Nuggets will have to win at least once in San Antonio - a scenario in which they've failed over the past seven years. Denver also will just have to play better, especially in the waning minutes of the game.

All three games so far have been close deep into the fourth quarter, but the Spurs have been the better closer in two of three games. That might come from San Antonio's considerable edge in recent playoff experience - the Spurs are playing in the postseason for the 22nd consecutive season, while Denver is in the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

--Field Level Media

Updated April 20, 2019

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