Honestly? Derrick White was almost as stunned as you were that not a single Denver Nugget attempted to get the heck. At least, not until it was too stinking late.
“I was just pushing it and nobody stopped the ball,” White, the former Legend High, ex-Colorado Buffaloes star and San Antonio Spurs point guard explained matter-of-factly when reporters pressed for specifics on his one-handed, Game 1 dunk that rocked Twitter and stunned the Pepsi Center. “So I just attacked and attempted to make a play in the rim. ”
Short version? The drama in the rim was ill. The comprehensive version made Denver faithful somewhat queasy, too: With 6:20 left in the third phase of the Spurs’ 101-96 victory over the second-seeded and host Nuggets, with Denver having shaved a 10-point San Antonio lead down to 62-59, White sped the ball upcourt. As he veered left while crossing the time line, shifting gears, there were no blue shirts in front of him. The Parker native cut hard to his right once he reached the lane. Still no blue shirts.
Nuggets guard Jamal Murray trailed White all the way downcourt but didn’t close until the free-throw line on the opposite side of the ground. After Murray tried — and failed — to swipe the ball from behind, the former Buff took two steps and, with just Millsap in front of him, climbed high over the Denver electricity ahead, palming the ball in his right hand and posterizing the veteran with an emphatic slam.
“Just thought I’d try him,” White explained with a smile. “(That’s) pretty much it. ”
Well, that and the shouting.
“I didn’t even know what was happening; I looked up and only saw him in the air,” Spurs forward Rudy Gay remembered. “At first, I’m enjoy, ‘Good dunk,’ then I’m enjoy, ‘Please don’t be hurt. ’ Guess that’s the old man in me. ”
“Oh, man, I was screaming for just two minutes straight,” off-guard Bryn Forbes added. “It was crazy. Nevertheless, it was impressive. Really impressive. ”
When a reporter asked Forbes if White had ever flashed similar sky-walking in practice, the Spurs sharpshooter pondered for a second.
“Here, actually,” he responded. “The first time we played (in the Pepsi Center), he had a dunk on somebody. So this place it treating him nicely. Denver is treating him well. ”
In terms of how well the child ’s treating Denver back, that’s open to debate. Over his past four regular-season or postseason appearances at the Pepsi Center, the 6-foot-4 White has played in 76 minutes, scored 33 points and tallied nine assists, 11 rebounds and eight steals.
If you frame those totals over the 26 minutes per contest the prior first-team All-Pac-12 pick played over 2018-19, that averages out to 11.3 points, 3.1 dimes, 3.8 boards and 2.7 steals per Mile High appearance. White’s 16 points were a new personal best, home or away, contrary to the hometown Nuggets.
“He was spectacular,” said San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, whose Spurs will defend a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series for Game 2 in the Pepsi Center on Tuesday night. “For somebody who got put in that position with a bunch of new players, it’s really remarkable what he’s completed. ”
Saturday proved to be the latest punctuation mark on the closing paragraphs of White’s first full NBA season, one that’s found a crescendo at the perfect time. A preseason knee injury to Dejounte Murray had opened a window for the Legend alum to grab the Spurs’ starting point guard slot as the curtain rose on 2018-19, but a November foot issue sidelined him almost immediately, forcing Popovich to experiment with different combinations in the backcourt. White missed six games in February because of plantar fasciitis — a case of policeman’s heel — in his right foot, but returned after the All-Star fracture to ordinary 10.6 points and 4.7 assists over his final 19 looks of the normal season.
“He’s been getting better and better every game,” observed Spurs forward Rudy Gay, whose 14 points led all seat scorers, home or away, in Game 1. “It’s great to see that he can come out at this level and have the ability to contribute. And I’m proud of what he’s completed. ”
Nobody said the postseason learning curve could be kind: In the first two minutes of White’s first career NBA Playoffs start, the native son committed a turnover and two quick fouls, forcing Pop to pull out a quick hook in order to cool the 24-year-old’s jets.
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“I probably started the game off a bit started just running around and fouling,” White said. “But then, I settled down and played another game. ”
Which, of course, it wasn’t. Since the Nuggets clawed back in desperation, the last two minutes of the contest for White were even loopier than the ones in the start — another turnover, a miss, a clutch steal and two free throw leaves with 1.3 seconds left which effectively sealed the contest.
Which led a writer to query as to which moment felt sweeter: Bending the rim over Millsap’s mug? Or getting the final word in the NBA playoff contest played on your hometown since 2013?
“The win,” White responded. “By far, the win. Over everything. ”
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