SAN ANTONIO — Apparently nobody likes to head to San Antonio streaking. Unfortunate for those of us searching for storylines.
A late Manu Ginobili 3-pointer pushed the Spurs (54-17) past the scrappy Nuggets the same day the Miami Heat streak ended, and it was appropriate that it was a result of the outside shot that led San Antonio to a one-point, 100-99 victory. In a battle of inside game versus outside game, it was the latter that eventually won the day.
But it was Tim Duncan's continued dominance that made the difference.
The big man dropped 23 points, 14 boards and five blocks, making it the fifth time this season he's cleared the 20-point, 10-rebound, five-block mark. And how about this for perspective? There isn't a single player in the NBA who's posted those numbers more than once this year.
And beyond the numbers he put up, it was just his presence on the floor against the Nuggets' interior that swung the game. For what Denver lacks in the shooting department — they didn't hit a single 3-pointer in the game — they make up for with incredible size and athleticism at the forward and center spots. From Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee, to Andre Iguodala, Corey Brewer and Danilo Gallinari, the Nuggets are relentless. They leak out and run on every opportunity, miss or make, they crash the boards with ferocity and constantly try to dunk all over your face, and whatever limbs and body parts happen to be in the way.
Denver outscored the Spurs 68-36 in the paint, but San Antonio countered with 10 3-pointers, including six from Danny Green. Still, it was Duncan who did what the rest of the Spurs' bigs couldn't do: contain the Nuggets' frontcourt.
Tiago Splitter shot just 33 percent from the floor, Boris Diaw had as many turnovers as points (2) and Blair had virtually no chance to contend with the Denver bigs in his limited minutes. Duncan played 36 minutes on Wednesday, and the Spurs needed every single one of them. The Nuggets showed why they lead the league in points from the paint, but even at 36 years old, Duncan let the young fellas know he can still hang.
As Parker continues to regain form — he had 18 points and 11 assists, but shot just 6-for-16 from the field — Duncan continues to play his game. It feels like we keep hearing of milestones he's surpassing because of the length of his tenure in this sport, but these kind of stat lines are for the kids. As good as McGee's 21 points and 11 rebounds on 10-for-11 shooting was, Timmy was better. And he stayed much farther below the rim than JaVale did.
Things don't get any easier for the team cornerstone, either. Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and the dunk-happy Clippers make their way to San Antonio for Friday night's game, and that's before the suddenly beatable Heat show up for an Easter Sunday tilt.
But Duncan will be right there, waiting below the rim and defending the West's top seed.