CHICAGO - It was exactly where San Antonio wanted Denver to be, in a close Game 7 that would go down to the wire, and only those with nerves of steel remain standing.
The Spurs' championship pedigree and their expereince in these big moments were supposed to overwhelm the extremely talented but inexperienced Nuggets.
So when the Spurs sliced a 67-50 third-quarter deficit down to just 88-86 with only 52.2 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the big stage was set for the young Nuggets to drown in the deep, uncharted waters of NBA playoffs basketball.
But Jamal Murray refused to follow the script and calmly sank a contested 14-foot floater that gave Denver a four-point cushion the team needed to survive in the welter San Antonio's roaring, gallant comeback.
Murray's emergence was no surprise. The 24-year old is no stranger to the bright lights. He played college ball at Kentucky, a blue-chip program that bridged his entry to the NBA as the seventh overall pick in the 2016 rookie draft.
In this his maiden postseason dance, Murray went through some painful valleys, including a 6-for-24 clunker in Game 6. But he stood tall when his number was called in Game 7, tallying 24 points on 9-of-19 shooting. The 6-foot-4, 207-pound guard also had five rebounds and four dimes in 32 minutes.
Murray's fearless game-winner was the nail that sealed San Antonio's coffin, but it was Nikola Jokic who dug the grave.
Although the 7-foot Serbian didn't shoot the ball particularly well (9-of-26), he had a monster triple-double with 21 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists. Most impressively, he had an unbelievable zero turnovers in 43 minutes. He looked like a Vicky Belo creation - a flawless beauty.
In a stunning role reversal, the Spurs veterans uncharacteristically struggled mightily in a setting that was tailored-made for their rich history and tradition.
LaMarcus Alrdige and DeMar DeRozan combined for 33 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists, but they missed 24 field goals between them, which is why San Antonio played uphill from the opening tip.
Simply put, Aldridge and DeRozan did not meet the standard of excellence required in a do-or-die match.
The Spurs had the perfect game plan. They kept the score low and held the Nuggets to just 35 of 88 from the field (39.8 percent). They defended the 3-point line exceedingly well as Denver made just 2-of-20 behind the arc. And they surrendered only 23 free throws.
The Spurs can take pride in their planning and preparation. They will lose sleep in their lack of execution in the offense.
The Spurs sputtered to an anemic 13-point first quarter, usually a recipe for disaster for a road team in a game of this magnitude. Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli, members of the 2014 Spurs championship team, had only a combined five points on 2-for-10 shooting, including 1-for-7 from long distance.
This shortcoming is not on head coach Gregg Popovich. This one lies squarely on the players.
The name is the same, the uniforms strikingly familiar. But at the end of the day, these were not your daddy's San Antonio Spurs.
It's not foolish for us to believe that they could have been; it's just disappointing that they fell way short of our expectations.
If anything, we should be mad at Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. They set the bar so high that those following their footsteps may not be able to make the giant leap.