Pop on White’s game vs. Nuggets: ‘Spectacular’

NBA

DENVER — Derrick White saw an opening, rose up and threw down a thunderous one-handed dunk all over Paul Millsap that shook the Pepsi Center in the third quarter Saturday.

But that wasn’t even the San Antonio point guard’s biggest play of the night. Redeeming himself after a turnover he committed with just over a minute left in a tight game, White poked the ball away from Jamal Murray with 2.1 seconds left to allow the San Antonio Spurs to take Game 1 from the Denver Nuggets 101-96 in their best-of-seven first-round series.

The seventh-seeded Spurs stole Game 1 on the road from the second-seeded Nuggets, but it was White who stole the show. Growing up and playing his high school ball not far from Denver before playing at the University of Colorado, White had a homecoming so impressive that it left coach Gregg Popovich impressed. White made 7-of-10 shots and finished with 16 points and five assists in his first playoff start.

Answering a total of four questions combined in his pregame and postgame news conferences, Popovich was effusive when asked about White’s night.

“He’s spectacular for somebody who got put into that position,” said Popovich, who became the winningest head coach and passed Lenny Wilkens with 1,413 career regular-season and playoff victories. “To learn that position with a bunch of new players is really remarkable when he’s done what he’s done. So hopefully he’ll continue to play that way because it’s gonna be a long series.”

White, who has taken advantage of the opportunity as the starting point guard due to Dejounte Murray‘s preseason ACL injury, was a thorn in the Nuggets’ side. San Antonio led by as many as 12 points in the second quarter before the Nuggets made a run in the third. Denver got to within 62-59 but then White rose out of nowhere to throw down a highlight dunk over Millsap with 6:14 left in the third to temporarily halt Denver’s momentum.

“I was just pushing it and nobody stopped ball so [I was] attacking and try to make a play at the rim,” said White, who wanted to focus on the playoff game and thus limited his friends and family members to a total of 10 tickets for his homecoming. “I [saw] him at the rim, just thought I’d try him. That’s pretty much it.”

The Nuggets cut a seven-point, fourth-quarter deficit to one twice, thanks in part to Nikola Jokic‘s triple-double of 10 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists. Jokic became only the fourth player to record a triple-double in his first playoff game and the first since LeBron James did so in 2006, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

White turned the ball over with 1:09 left and the Nuggets down by one, but Murray missed a 3-pointer and then an open 18-footer and the Nuggets turned the ball over twice, the last coming on White’s steal against Murray in the backcourt as the Nuggets’ guard was bringing the ball up the court with a chance to tie the score with a 3-pointer.

Murray, who scored 17 points but went 0-for-6 from 3-point range as the Nuggets shot only 21.4 percent from beyond the arc, was so frustrated that he stayed long after the game on the Nuggets’ practice court to get shots up from spots he missed during Game 1.

“I was just shooting,” Murray said. “I’m frustrated.”

While Murray was shooting, White put on an old-school retro Spurs warm-up top after spoiling the Nuggets’ first playoff game since the 2012-13 season when George Karl was their head coach.

When asked what he savored more — the dunk or the steal — White gave an answer that would have made Popovich smile.

“The win,” the second-year point guard said. “By far the win.”

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