SAN ANTONIO — For Nikola Jokic, the December of double-doubles came to a resounding end in the Denver Nuggets‘ 111-103 loss to the Spurs on Wednesday, with the center taking just five shots on the night, including only one attempt in the second half.
Still, Nuggets coach Michael Malone expressed his trust in Jokic, saying he has “no doubt” the center will bounce back Friday when the teams meet again at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
“He’s a guy that I trust. Obviously tonight, he’s got to understand how he’s being played,” Malone said. “That’s probably the biggest frustration tonight: Every time he put the ball down, they were coming. The turnovers were probably more frustrating than the lack of shooting.
“I trust Nikola. If he thinks he’s open, he’s going to shoot it. If he doesn’t think it’s open, he’s going to make a play for somebody. Nikola’s been playing at a very high level. Obviously, tonight was a tough night for him.”
Jokic had produced double-doubles in eight of his past nine games headed into Wednesday’s matchup against the Spurs, who constantly attacked the center with double-teams throughout the contest. Jokic connected on just one of his four field goal attempts in the first half for three points, to go with seven assists. But Jokic also committed two of Denver’s four first-half turnovers, as the Nuggets headed to the locker room at intermission down 55-53.
Jokic finished with a game-high five turnovers. He scored just four points but added 10 assists.
“I was aggressive,” Jokic said. “The people were coming, and when they came toward me, I just threw the ball to the other guys. I think I played not great, but I played good. We’ll see them again in the next two days.”
Jokic’s five shots tied for his third-lowest total of the season. Entering this game, Denver actually owned a record of 5-1 when Jokic took fewer than 10 shots. The only loss came in November in an outing in which the center attempted only one shot, a miss with three seconds remaining and the Nuggets down 2.
After that tilt, Nuggets forward Mason Plumlee said, “A lot of our offense is through him, so he has to take the initiative to take shots.” Two days later, when Denver faced the Brooklyn Nets, Jokic hoisted up 22 shots, which at the time was a season high and even now ranks as his second-highest shot total of the campaign.
“I think we did a good job on him,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of Jokic after Wednesday’s game. “We lost a few other people, the perimeter guys. They really shot some 3s well. But we did a pretty good job on Nikola. He had assists. If he’s not scoring, he’s assisting for sure. He’s a heck of a player.”
With Jokic virtually neutralized by San Antonio’s constant double-teams, the Nuggets relied on strong efforts from Juan Hernangomez (27 points) and Malik Beasley (22 points), as the team hit 18 attempts from long range in the loss.
“They played really good defense on Jokic,” Hernangomez said. “They just took Jokic out of the game. They know he’s our best player. When they double on him, we have to make opportunities for the rest of the team and make shots. We didn’t make that many shots.”
Nuggets rookie guard Monte Morris offered his take on Jokic.
“I feel like they were trapping him so much it was hard for him to get looks,” Morris said. “We were running stuff for him, but he can’t shoot it when you’re getting trapped as soon as you touch it. That’s the thing with being like a big-time all-star. We saw them tonight. So we know how they’re going to play him the next game.”
“The reality is this: When you’re down three starters, you need your other two starters to step up and play well,” Malone said. “We just didn’t get that tonight. But I know Jamal [Murray] and Nikola will bounce back and be ready for the next game.”
Murray shot 4-of-19 for nine points and committed two of the team’s 12 turnovers.