Rehash: Spurs survive late collapse against Denver, win 15th straight

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that healthy stretch was nice while it lasted.

Game 71 Vs. Denver: Spurs 113, Nuggets 108    Rec: 55-16     1st in Southwest, 1st in West     Streak: W-15

For 12 minutes Wednesday night, Kenneth Faried was the best player in the world.

During the fourth quarter Faried, whom Gregg Popovich lauded before the game as being the game's preeminent energy man, made the Spurs coach look like a chagrined prophet, as he seemed to be the only person in the AT&T Center, and perhaps the only one on the entire planet, who didn't understand that the Nuggets were supposed to lose in meek fashion to the juggernaut Spurs.

Down 84-67 going into the fourth quarter, the tireless, manic, human-pogo-stick that is Faried scored 15 points on 4-of-6 from the field and 7-of-8 from the line, while snatching six boards, swiping two steals, swatting one Spur shot and even dishing an assist. That's a LeBron James kind of quarter. For 12 minutes, Faried was that good.

The thing is, Tim Duncan, a month shy of his 38th birthday, was nearly as good.

Duncan, who checked back into the game three minutes into a final period in which the Spurs were reeling, scored 11 of the Spurs final dozen points to help rescue a game where a once 24-point deficit had shrunk to an uncomfortable four with 3:30 to go. His turnaround banker over the shorter Faried increased the lead to six and the Spurs were never seriously threatened thereafter.

The more telling aspect of the game to consider is that Duncan had far outplayed Faried (and everyone else) in the first three quarters to help get the Spurs out to their big lead, a position they've enjoyed for almost the entirety of March. It's the latest entry to the endless philosophical debate we have as fans anytime he or Manu Ginobili or Tony Parker have standout games in narrow wins.

Did he do it because he just happened to be in a zone or did he do it because nobody else was stepping up?

In the end it doesn't matter much. When the Spurs blow people out it seems like nobody ever scores more than 15 or stands out in any particular fashion but when they win a close tight game there's always one or two fellas that dominate the box score while the rest fail to impress. Almost inevitably the big three are in those one or two, and Duncan more than anyone.

The overarching story of the game may have been the Spurs second-half collapse, 24 minutes of basketball where they shot 41.3 from the field, made exactly zero threes and gave the ball away 15 times to just 11 assists, a ratio worthy of March Madness. It was a far cry from the first half, where they were typically brilliant, shooting 57 percent from both the field and from downtown, with 19 assists to just six turnovers. To no one's surprise, they were up 20, thanks in particular to five bombs from the scorching Danny Green.

Pop used a bit of an unusual rotation in the second quarter, going back to his starting five for a long stretch and keeping Green in there instead of closing with Manu Ginobili, as normal. It was hard to blame him since the starters were fantastic together --Plus-11 in 9:57-- but it seemed to throw the team's rhythm off in the second half when Pop elected to start Ginobili in Green's place. With a second ball-handler/facilitator in there the Spurs got a bit too pass-happy and unselfish, started hunting for basketball porn nirvana at the expense of the hapless Nugs, and got awfully sloppy (and probably a bit disrespectful of the opponent) in a hurry. The Nuggets turned it over a bunch themselves, so it made for one hideous quarter, growing even uglier in the big picture when Green checked in late and quickly hobbling back out when everyone realized that something was seriously wrong with his foot.

The X-ray is tomorrow. For now the diagnosis is a "mid-foot sprain," but Pop suggested it might be the dreaded plantar fasciitis.

The Nuggets cleaned up their act before the Spurs did, thanks mostly to Faried's efforts, but 17 points is a lot to overcome in a quarter on the road and Duncan's scoring and Kawhi Leonard's jaw-dropping defensive efforts made it 15 straight for the Spurs.

To go off on the fellas for losing their focus would be foolish indeed. It's late March and everyone either wants to go home or get the playoffs started already. No one in the league is playing remotely as well as the Spurs have this past month. Indiana and Miami are struggling just to beat bad teams, let alone blow them out. The Thunder and Clippers aren't winning too many easy games themselves and Scotty Brooks is doing his best Mike D'Antoni impression, running his star into the ground 45 minutes a night.

The Spurs, who despite what you hear aren't robots or some "well-oiled machine," are allowed the occasional lapse during the dog days of the season, against an opponent that inspires not a soul and with a huge lead well earned to that point in the game. To expect them to blow out everybody every night is not just unrealistic and unfair, but probably not good for the team in the long run. It's good for them to face some late game adversity now and then, just for practice.

Besides, forget the notion of "The Big Three" boarding that plane to Denver had the Spurs blown out the Nuggets and kept their minutes in the teens. No matter what, they were never going to get on that plane. Not for a one-game road trip with the Pelicans back in town the next night.

The only things to take away from this game:

1) Hopefully Green's injury isn't too serious or something that will bother him during a playoff run.

2) Duncan is still pretty good.

You know, not as good as Kenneth Faried, World's Best Basketballer, but pretty good nonetheless.

Standard Pop Quote:

"We played a good half, we played a bad half. The NBA is a 48-minute game and you've got to keep playing."

Bonus Pop Quote (on why Patty Mills didn't play much down the stretch last season):

"He was a little fat-ass."

By the Numbers:

11: The 11th time in his career that Duncan has had a line of at least 29-13-5-2-2 in those five stat categories (h/t Matthew R. Tynan)

2: Duncan is the second-oldest player all-time to record a 29-13-5. (h/t Quixem Ramirez)

4: Karl Malone did it three times in a one month span at 38 and once again the next season at 39. (h/t Dan McCarney)

55: The 55th time this season the Spurs have scored 100-plus points, a record for the Duncan Era (h/t Quixem Ramirez)

21: Turnovers for the Spurs, which only seems like it is a lot because it really, really is a lot.

15: Spurs finish with 30-plus assists for the 15th time this season.

22-0: The Spurs' record when Splitter scores at least 10 points. He's done that in five straight games now, his longest streak of the year.

0: Field goals made, in 12 attempts, for Chris Paul tonight against the Pelicans, a franchise record for futility. Just thought that was funny. (h/t Dan Woike)

9, 8, 6: The Spurs' magic number for home court advantage versus the Thunder, Pacers and Heat, respectively.

Sequence of the Game:

Green hit three threes, all on passes from Duncan, in a 47-second span in the first quarter. The first of them gave the Spurs a lead they would never relinquish (barely), and the third of them stretched the lead to a healthy eight points. Duncan also had both rebounds in between the Green PUJITs. Get well soon, Danny.

Tweets of the Night:

Finally, an explanation for KG's career.

Scola never played remotely as hard on either end of the floor, but especially defensively, in the NBA as he has for the Argentine national team.

Sadly prophetic.

Or, just watch some European commercials I'm not allowed to link to.

Funny and depressing at the same time. Well done.

All fun and games when the team's up 15.

The thing about that shot is it's really easy to get blocked when the opponent guesses right. I mean, you're showing them the whole ball. Also, if you're uncoordinated enough, you can get rim-checked have the ball bounce right back in your mug.

Mr. Elliott would not be one of my top choices to play Twister with.

I'd watch a documentary on how athletes get together and decide to do these dumb celebrations.

Well, except that he'd be Diaw's replacement.

I'm assuming he meant on Friday. Don't expect them in the 1st, 2nd or 3rd quarters, either.

Have not been impressed with the Brian Shaw Era in Denver. Maybe the skeleton crew Spurs beat 'em up there just because of the coaching mismatch.

WHO SAYS NO?

Yes, that's kind of insane.

Random Observation:

Evan Fournier watched a hell of a game out there. In 22:00 on the floor, he took two shots, had one rebound, one assist, one steal and three turnovers, while committing two fouls and never getting to the line. That's remarkably little activity for a wing player in that much playing time. Why is he out there? It's not like he's a defensive stopper of any kind. Also, I find him unpleasant to look at. Go away, Evan Fournier.

Your Three Stars:

3) Kawhi Leonard (63 pts): An uncharacteristically quiet shooting night from Leonard considering he's averaged almost 15 per game since returning from a broken hand, but he helped get the team off to a good start and made a number of big defensive plays down the stretch to pull out the win. Finished with three steals and three blocks.

2) Danny Green (51 pts): Fantastic in the first half with five threes, including three of them in a 47-second stretch, and his final make, at the half-time buzzer, sent the Spurs into the tunnel up 20. Then, in the words of Pop, "All of a sudden he couldn't walk." It's a damn shame to lose Green for any length of time, especially since he was playing some of the best ball of his career. He's been making 52 percent of his threes in March.

1) Tim Duncan (121 pts): Scored 11 of the Spurs' 12 final points to help save the game but was steadily excellent all four quarters, with a 29-13-5-2-2 line. Showed some good arc on his jumper, which is always nice to see. A bit sloppy with five turnovers but that was his only blemish on the night. Pop really stretched him out, playing Timmy 36 minutes, so there's just no way you're gonna see him until Saturday. (If you noticed, Duncan made sure to give Faried some love after the game, a "see ya next year because I ain't flying to Denver," if there ever was one.

Next Up: @Denver Nuggets (32-40), Friday, Mar. 28: Well, there's a familiar opponent. Not only did the Nugs beat the hell out of the Spurs in the second half, but they've vanquished the last five teams that have come into their gym on winning streaks of at least ten games, including the Clippers on Mar. 17. Faried will be his manic, bouncy self because, why not, it's not like has to save any energy for the playoffs, amirite? I would guess that it's a mortal lock that Duncan, Parker and Ginobili won't be on that plane to Colorado. Green will be out too, of course, and I wouldn't be too surprised if Leonard sits this one out as well, so unless Patty Mills plays the kinda game that makes all the other Patty Mills Games this year pale by comparison, I'm thinking the win streak will end at 15. Honestly, I'm already banking that one as a loss and looking ahead to the Pelicans the next night. I was waaaaaaay off (par for the course) about them going into tank mode in the desperate hope of not having to surrender their first-round pick to Philly and now they're actually playing their best ball of the season, having just beaten the Clippers and with Anthony Davis looking like "The Admiral" circa 1991. That will not be an easy game. In fact, I think the Spurs have exhausted their ration of those until November.

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