SAN ANTONIO -- About two hours before Thursday night's Game 6, a relaxed Gregg Popovich sat down for his pregame session with the media and was amiable with reporters despite the fact his San Antonio Spurs were facing elimination.
"He always has a calm to him," DeMar DeRozan said of Popovich, who has at times been short with reporters in pregame gatherings. "It wears off on us. ... We understood what we had to come in here and do tonight. Wasn't much [that] needed to be said."
From the morning shootaround to the moments leading up to Game 6, the Spurs players not only could feel Popovich's collected temperament, they channeled it. With DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge playing their best all-around games together, the Spurs kept their season alive with a 120-103 rout of the Denver Nuggets to force Game 7.
Not since Dikembe Mutombo famously celebrated the Nuggets' first-round upset of the top-seeded Seattle Supersonics in 1994 by laying on the court and holding the basketball in his hands with a smile the size of the Rocky Mountains has Denver won a winner-take-all game.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone told his team that closing out the Spurs on their home court would make Game 6 the hardest game they've ever had to play. Now, the second-seeded Nuggets will have to win one more home game to advance to face Portland with many of the young Nuggets experiencing their first-ever Game 7 on Saturday.
Nikola Jokic, who had 43 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists Thursday night, acknowledged he didn't know what playing in a Game 7 would be like.
"It is probably going to be even tougher than this one," he said. "We are playing at home. That may be a little good thing for us.
"We need to go there and give our best. Just go out there and work and punch people, play physical, setting screen, whatever we need to do just to get a win."
Aldridge took the fight to the Nuggets early when he scored 13 of his 26 points in the first quarter. He also finished with 10 rebounds and five assists.
DeRozan scored 23 of his 25 points in the last 25:08 of the game, including a putback at the halftime buzzer that came off his own missed free throw. DeRozan added seven assists and seven rebounds to keep the Spurs alive.
Malone called the DeRozan putback "a microcosm of this game."
"DeRozan misses, no one boxes him out, he grabs it and lays it in," Malone said. "The attention to detail was not there tonight."
One game after missing 26 of 46 shots inside the paint, many of them layups, the Spurs made 57.1 percent of their shots. While Jokic scored the most points in a playoff game in Nuggets history, topping Carmelo Anthony's 42 in 2010, the Spurs locked in on the Nuggets' 3-point shooters, holding Denver to 6-of-24 shooting from behind the arc.
Jamal Murray, who has been so key to the Nuggets' success in their playoff wins, scored 16 points, but only five came in the second half. He also appeared to take a blow to his thigh on a screen set by Spurs center Jakob Poeltl that sent Murray to the floor before he would remain in the game following a timeout in the third quarter.
The Spurs, though, delivered their finishing blow in this game during a 22-4 run that spanned from near the end of the third quarter to midway through the fourth when they blew open a three-point game into a 110-89 lead.
Malone went mostly to his subs to rest his starters at the end of the third and early in the fourth when San Antonio made its move.
"I mean, we went into this game like it was our Game 7 tonight," said Nuggets point guard Monte Morris, who was part of a Denver bench that was held to 13 points after being solid for most of this series.
After the game, Popovich was back to his normal terse self in his postgame media session. Game 7 was on, and Pop was back to being Pop.
"Well, I mean, the plan is the plan," Popovich said when asked what worked for the Spurs in Game 6. "Sometimes things work, sometimes they don't, but I'm probably not gonna discuss the plan with you. With all due respect. I'm not sure why I should do that. It's not like it's a secret or nobody's seen things before, but things worked out for us tonight."
Earlier in the series, Malone said Popovich is "the Bobby Fischer" of NBA playoff chess games when it comes to making adjustments. Popovich deadpanned at the end of his pregame session before Game 6 like he had something up his sleeve.
Now the Spurs coach will try to win another Game 7 as he heads into Denver with a 3-3 career record in Game 7s.
"Game 7 -- how much do you have to say?" Malone said. "For us, we're lucky we're playing in front of our home crowd. ... The hope is that we will respond in Game 7."