SAN ANTONIO -- It was late in the second quarter with the San Antonio Spurs trailing by five, and Derrick White was casually bringing the ball up the court when he saw Jamal Murray getting into a defensive stance.
Suddenly, White turned on the jets and attacked. White threw up a runner high off the glass that bounced in while Murray was called for a foul. All the Denver Nuggets point guard could do was put his hands behind his head in frustration.
White and the Spurs would end up closing the quarter on a 21-8 run to grab a lead, and they never trailed again.
No one on the Nuggets could stop White, who is becoming quite the playoff revelation, even for an organization like the Spurs, who have built a strong reputation for finding diamonds in the rough.
"There's no doubt in my mind that Derrick White, the last couple of days, has been reminded about Jamal Murray's fourth-quarter performance [in Game 2]," Denver coach Mike Malone said. "Derrick White came out like he hadn't eaten in two days.
"He came out hungry. He came out pissed off. And he sent a very loud and clear message."
After Murray scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to help the Nuggets win Game 2, White played like a point guard with a personal vendetta against Murray and the Nuggets. In just his third playoff start, White continued his breakout with a career-high 36 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals and 1 block to lead the Spurs to a 118-108 win in Game 3 at AT&T Center on Thursday night.
The seventh-seeded Spurs now lead this best-of-seven series 2-1 over the second-seeded Nuggets in large part because of White, who has arguably been the best player in the series. White is the third Spurs player to score at least 35 points in the playoffs before turning 25 years old, joining only Tim Duncan and Willie Anderson, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
The Nuggets have not won in San Antonio in their past 14 tries, dating to 2012. If the Spurs continue their home dominance in Game 4, the Nuggets will return to Denver with their brilliant season on the brink.
"We'll win it," Denver forward Paul Millsap told Altitude TV when asked about the importance of Saturday's game.
The Nuggets will certainly spend the next 24 hours trying to figure out how to contain White, who got into the paint and scored almost seemingly at will. White put up the kind of efficient paint numbers that would make a dominant big man jealous.
White made 15 of 21 shots but an eye-opening 12-of-14 in the paint, where he scored 24 of his points, tied for the fourth-most points in the paint by a starting point guard in the past 20 postseasons, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Pop on White: 'He's OK'
Gregg Popovich and Mike Malone address Derrick White's 36-point effort in Game 3, with Malone saying, "He came out like he hadn't eaten in two days."
White dominated Murray on both ends of the floor. It was as if he saw red whenever Murray was in front of him. Or perhaps it really was a green light.
He made 6 of 8 shots for 13 of his points when Murray was the primary defender on him.
"I just have a chip on my shoulder," said White, who played at Division II Colorado-Colorado Springs and then one season at Colorado before being drafted with the 29th overall pick in 2017. "This is the way I would play since I was young. I am just trying to get out there and compete and have fun."
This game was no fun for Murray, who seemed poised to take a step forward in his young career after he erupted in the fourth quarter of Game 2. However, Murray struggled, missing four of his six shots and finishing with six points in 31 minutes. He also at one point appeared to take a shot to his thigh on a screen and looked hobbled early in the fourth.
Malone challenged his young Nuggets -- many of whom are playing in their first playoff series -- to respond and show what they're made of. The Nuggets won 54 games during the regular season and now must prove that they are a legitimate playoff contender or face elimination in Denver next week.
"Now I'm anxious to see our guys," Malone said. "How do we respond to that? Where is your pride? Where is your toughness? Where is your grit? So Game 4 is going to be great insight to who we are as a team, especially our young players, especially Jamal Murray.
"Great fourth quarter, we win Game 2. Well, he's going to learn as a young kid, it can't be just one quarter, it has to be every night if you want to be a really good basketball player, especially in the playoffs."
When asked what Murray has to do to tilt the matchup with White in the Nuggets' favor, Malone made it clear.
"It's defense. Derrick White dominated the game tonight," Malone said. "Jamal, first and foremost, has to take a lot more pride in his ability to guard and contain and make Derrick White feel him. Derrick White did not feel us tonight. ...
"He did not feel us. They did not feel us. And we felt them for 48. Big difference. They were the more physical team and that is why they kicked our butt."
White set the tone for the game, making 11 of 15 shots and scoring 26 points by halftime. And then DeMar DeRozan took over in the third quarter. After struggling and scoring only four points in the first half, DeRozan made 7 of 9 shots and scored 19 of his 25 points in the third. Still, Denver trailed by just two with 11:17 left, but San Antonio put the game away with a 25-7 run.
White, who played in the G League last season and was thrust into the starting point guard spot because Dejounte Murray went down in the preseason because of an ACL injury, scored 10 of his points during the finishing run.
When asked if he has to take what happened in Game 3 personally, Murray agreed.
"I should," Murray said. "I'll be ready the next game. Most of the times when I say I bounce back, I do. So I'll bounce back."