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      They believed in Rudy Gay, who had seemed to vanish into the Denver thin air in the middle of this playoff series.

      They believed in LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, high-level scorers with playoff demons to conquer.

      They believed in a bench that had failed them for the better part of the week, and a defensive game plan that seemed destined to make an instant Hall of Famer out of Denver’s Nikola Jokic.

      Mostly, however, the Spurs believed in their own belief.

      “Nobody wanted this thing to end,” DeRozan said after the Spurs kept their season alive with a 120-103 victory in Game 6 on Thursday at the AT&T Center. “We knew what we had to do.”


      The Spurs entered their do-or-die night determined to treat it like a Game 7.

      As a reward, the Spurs receive an actual Game 7 on Saturday night in Denver.

      Aldridge dominated with 26 points and 10 rebounds, DeRozan took over the second half, scoring 18 of his 25 points after intermission, and the Spurs led nearly wire-to-wire to send the series back to the Rocky Mountains, this time for all the marbles.

      “We had a lot of people participate tonight,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “A lot of people came and had good games. The Nuggets have had that pretty regularly. We had that tonight.”

      Now the Spurs head into Game 7, their first since losing to the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2015 first round.

      The Spurs have faced six Game 7s in the Popovich era, going 3-3. They have won only one Game 7 on the road in team history — the 2008 conference semifinals at New Orleans.

      With a victory Saturday, the Spurs would become only the second No. 7 seed to defeat a No. 2 seed in the best-of-seven era. The first were the 2010 Spurs, who knocked off Dallas in six games.

      “It was do or die for us,” Gay said. “We aren’t ready to go home. We had to come out and give them the first punch.”

      Denver coach Michael Malone expected as much from the proud Spurs.

      “I kept telling our guys, we’re going to have to put them to bed,” Malone said. “They’re not going to go on their own.”

      Jokic did his best to knock the Spurs out on his own.?The Spurs survived an uppercut blow from the 7-foot Serbian, who set a Denver postseason record with 43 points to go with 12 rebounds and nine assists.

      For the fifth time since opening the series with a triple-double, Jokic narrowly missed a second one.

      The Spurs made much of their hay in the 10 minutes Jokic spent on the bench. Malone left the AT&T Center wondering if he could afford to rest Jokic even a little in Game 7.

      “Maybe we have to play him 48,” Malone said. “Every time we take him out, you’re holding your breath that we can hold on.”

      Heading into the game, the Spurs tried to split the difference between playing with an edge and playing tight.

      Spurs center Jakob Poeltl said he noticed a different vibe around the Spurs’ practice facility than what he saw in his first two years in Toronto, even with the team facing possible elimination.

      “It is a little bit more relaxed,” said Poeltl, who chipped in a gritty eight points and nine rebounds. “You can kind of tell a lot of people in this gym have been here before.”

      If the Spurs’ top two scorers seemed were going to go down, they were going down firing.

      In the end, Aldridge and DeRozan got the best of both worlds. They didn’t go out at all.

      DeRozan added seven rebounds and seven assists, while Aldridge tossed in five assists and set the tone for the Spurs early.

      After totaling eight points in the previous two games, Gay reasserted himself into the series with 19 on Thursday. He was 7 of 11 from the field, 3 of 3 from 3-point range, and a big part of the Spurs’ 36-13 lead in bench points.

      Afterward, DeRozan had three words to say about Gay’s long-awaited bounce-back.

      “Told you so,” DeRozan said. “We all had that confidence, not just in Rudy but everybody.”

      Having been buried from the 3-point line in the previous three games, the Spurs made the conscious decision to stay home on the Nuggets’ perimeter shooters.

      Denver hoisted only 23 3-point attempts, a low for the series, making only six. No Nuggets player made more than two. Denver was 8 for 28 from outside the paint.

      The added attention paid to the 3-point arc opened up the paint for Jokic to have the playoff game of his life.?The Spurs won despite a 72-36 disadvantage in paint points and a 28-13 deficit in second-chance points -- both of which were Jokic-related.

      This time, at least, the approach paid off for the Spurs.

      “The plan is the plan,” Popovich said. “Sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t. Things worked out for us tonight.”

      Aldridge, who finished 10 of 18 and got the Spurs going early, said he enjoyed trading big man blows with Jokic.

      “I like it,” Aldridge said. “That’s old school basketball.”

      If the Spurs can continue to relegate Denver to playing “old school basketball" for four more quarters, they like their chances of advancing.

      The Spurs kept the Nuggets off the 3-point line. They kept Denver out of transition. Boosted by adrenaline, the Spurs trailed for only 2:13 of the game, all in the second quarter.

      “Give them credit,” Malone said. “Their season was hanging in the balance and they did what they had to do.”

      Now, the Nuggets and Spurs trudge back to Denver, both teams’ season in the balance.

      Come Saturday, it will be another win-or-go-home scenario for the Spurs, their second Game 7 of the season. With the series on the line, the Spurs will be sure to pack their belief.

      “It’s time for us to go out on the road and close this thing out,” DeRozan said.

      [email protected]

      Related slideshow: Best of the 2019 NBA playoffs (provided by imagn)

      a basketball player with a ball in front of a crowd: Portland Trail Blazers forward Meyers Leonard (11) drives to the basket against Golden State Warriors forward Jordan Bell (2) and forward Alfonzo McKinnie (28) during the first half in game four of the Western conference finals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Moda Center?on May 20, 2019.?

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