After suffering an 18-point loss in Game 5, the San Antonio Spurs look to bounce back when they host the Denver Nuggets in Game 6.
Denver has now won two consecutive games in the series after dropping two of the first three and has done so thanks to its youthful core. In their last two wins, the Nuggets offence has been paced by Jamal Murray (23.5 ppg, 6.5 apg, 50.0 3P%) and Nikola Jokic (22.5 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 8.0 apg), who are both in the playoffs for the first time in their respective careers.
San Antonio, on the other hand, is one of the more seasoned playoff teams with LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan handling the bulk of the offensive load. After stealing the show in Game 3 with a career-high 36 points (on 15-for-21 shooting), Spurs second-year guard Derrick White has seen his production returned closer to the norm in Games 4 and 5, where he averaged 10.0 points on 42.1% shooting.
With these recent trends in mind, here are a few things to keep an eye on in Game 6:
San Antonio hasn't been a team to rely on the deep ball at all this year.
In the regular season, the Spurs were one of just five teams to make fewer than 10 3-pointers per game, hitting 9.9 at a league-best rate of 39.2%. In the postseason, those figures have dipped to 6.2 makes per game at 33.7%.
Denver, on the other hand, is knocking down 12.0 triples per game this series at a 41.4% clip, making for a stark contrast between the two teams and a big gap in perimeter scoring.
Don't expect San Antonio to change its identity 88 games into the season, but it should look to get quality looks from beyond the arc as the team's success in the first round has had a direct correlation to its ability to connect from beyond the arc.
In the Spurs two wins, they have shot a combined 14-for-33 (42.4%) from deep, while the team has shot below 30% from 3-point range in each of its three losses in the series (17-for-59, 28.8%).
A good night from the land beyond won't guarantee a Game 6 win for San Antonio, but it is most definitely a key component.
Who steps up for the Spurs?
As mentioned earlier, it's no secret that the Spurs offensive success begins - and ends - with the duo of DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, but San Antonio cannot get by with those two alone.
The Spurs success hinges on the contributions of their role players.
In Game 1, Derrick White (16 points), Bryn Forbes (15 points) and Rudy Gay (14 points) combined to score 45 points on 19-for-28 (67.9%) shooting from the field. In Game 3, White exploded for 36 points while Gay (11 points), Forbes (10 points) and Jakob Poeltl (10 points) each finished in double figures.
White and Poeltl both finished in double figures in Game 5, Marco Belinelli, Davis Bertans, Patty Mills, Gay and Forbes shot a combined 10-for-35 from the field. As the series shifts back to San Antonio, the environment will be more conducive for the Spurs complementary players to put forth the necessary efforts to extend the series.
A team effort is required for San Antonio to force a Game 6.
Will this be Jokic's signature moment?
Throughout the regular season, the Nuggets 24-year-old All-Star put forth performances worthy of placing him in MVP conversations.
Through five games this series, Jokic has put forth impressive averages of 19.6 points, 11.6 rebounds and 9.0 assists per game. While his numbers are marks of his versatility and a testament to his consistency, Game 6 is the opportunity for Jokic to put his stamp on the series.
After winning Game 4 in San Antonio, the Nuggets are 1-14 in their last 15 games at the AT&T Center; to earn their second road win over the Spurs in over seven years, they'll need an MVP-like performance from their franchise player.
A signature moment from Jokic at the AT&T Center would be poetic, as he burst onto the NBA scene with a 23-point, 12-rebound performance in the 11th game of his rookie season when the Nuggets visited the Spurs.
Now, nearly four years later, Jokic has the opportunity to lead Denver to its first postseason series win since 2009.