Derrick White had a career-high 36 points and the San Antonio Spurs beat the Denver Nuggets 118-108 on Thursday night, withstanding a first-half lapse to take a 2-1 lead in the first-round series.
Nikola Jokic had 22 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for Denver.
Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio, where the Spurs are 3-0 against the Nuggets this season.
White attacked Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray from the opening tip after being on the receiving end of Murray’s career outing Tuesday night. Murray had only six points, a game after scoring 21 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter to help Denver overcome a 19-point deficit to even the series.
White set his career high after being fouled by Paul Millsap on a driving layup that bounced off the side of the rim, hit the backboard and fell in to give the Spurs a 99-89 lead with 8:52 remaining. White added five rebounds, five assists and three steals while shooting 12 for 17. The point guard matched his overall career high with 26 points in the first half.
DeMar DeRozan took over after that, scoring 21 of his 25 points in the second half. LaMarcus Aldridge added 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Rudy Gay had 11 points and 10 rebounds.
White had 10 points in the opening quarter while primarily being defended by Murray.
Denver’s second unit dominated, turning a 31-22 deficit after the first quarter into a 38-31 advantage early in the second quarter. The Nuggets opened the second quarter shooting 7 for 8, including a pair of 3-pointers by Malik Beasley. San Antonio’s first points came on Jakob Poeltl’s two free throws with 8:41 left.
Beasley finished with 20 points, and Gary Harris added 12 points.
Harris stole the ball from Gay at midcourt and then calmly drained a 3-pointer before the Spurs’ defense could set for a 50-40 lead. San Antonio then went on a 21-8 run to close the half and recapture a lead it would not relinquish.
Nuggets: Jokic has led the Nuggets in rebounding and assists in every game in the series. He averaged 13.5 rebounds and 11 assists in the first two games. … Isaiah Thomas was eligible to play but did not. … Millsap picked up his third foul with 2:12 remaining in the first half after bumping Aldridge near the 3-pointer. Millsap threw his hands up in frustration as he exited. … Jokic was called for his third foul with 7:36 remaining in the third quarter but remained in the game.
Spurs: The Spurs are 22-7 against the Nuggets in the postseason, including 13-3 at home. … DeRozan led the Spurs in scoring in the opening two games of the series. … White’s previous career highs were 26 points in the regular season against Brooklyn on Jan. 31 and 17 against Denver in Game 2. … Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are the only players to score more points in any half for the Spurs in the postseason than White’s 26 points in the first half.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was bemused when asked what the Spurs’ mindset is after earning a split on the road.
“What’s their mindset,” Popovich asked. “I didn’t give any psychological tests today or anything. It’s their job, they are going to come play, so will the Nuggets. They are going to try to win. Nuggets are going to try to win. It’s a competitive sport, that’s the mindset. It’s not too difficult to imagine.”
Game 4: Saturday in San Antonio.