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Game #41 Recap: Spurs cruise past Nuggets, 110-97

Ref: "So... Is it true? Melo's going to the Nets?"

Karl: "Dagnamit ref, even you? There's a game to be officiated!"

While others might dismiss the San Antonio Spurs' pristine league-leading record as somewhat of a mirage because of injuries and turmoil among a number of teams, the Denver Nuggets got a sampling of what has made the Spurs very successful in the first 41 games of the season. Banking on a combination of all-star talent and bench depth, San Antonio put on a searing 2nd quarter run from which the Nuggets would never recover. Tony Parker led the Spurs' blitzing offense, scoring 30 points on 11-15 shooting, while the team defense held Denver's stars Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony to a combined 7-25 (28%) shooting night.

Jump in for a very brief recap and some worthless blabber you might want to skip.

My name is J.R., and my middle name is H for Highlight. Sometimes it also stands for Hack.

I haven't really counted backwards yet, but fortunately, I think I haven't had the opportunity to recap a loss. I'm not complaining. Just thought, hey, I'm kiiiinda running out of things to say about the Spurs winning left and right. Believe me, I'm having a ton of fun with this, but somehow I think almost everything that can be said has been said. There's not been a lot of drama lately, and we don't need it. Winning is winning, and I'll take that all day, any day.

Should I put a lot of stock in this win considering Denver was playing on a SEGABABA? No, because we also had the same thing and we came into their house and beat them, even though it was by the slimmest of margins. How about playing a distracted team, with Carmelo at the epicenter of trade earthquakes? That's their problem, not the Spurs'.

I'll be honest... I only got to watch the second half. I had to pick up my niece from the airport and frequent delays took away the pleasure of me having to watch the game in its entirety. But when I turned on the TV, Doris Burke practically summed up the game for me in terms of how it was, more than anything, a game of runs. Here's how she broke it down:

1st Quarter:

8-2 run by the Spurs to open the game.

Nuggets counter with a 13-2 run.

Spurs fight back with another run, this time 7-0

Denver ends with a 9-3 surge to go up by 4 at the end of the first.

2nd Quarter:

It's the Nuggets' turn to start the quarter with a run, firing an 8-0 blast to pad its biggest lead at 12 points.

Spurs get on an 11-1 run to narrow it down to 4 points.

After finally some semblance of an exchange of baskets, the Spurs go for the jugular, unleashing a spirit-breaking 19-0 bomb to put the Spurs up by 12 points. Whoa, mama. Parker contributed 8 points to that spurt, while George Hill and Richard Jefferson buried a three each.

See Tony make a layup. See the Spurs run. See Tony make another layup.

The 3rd and 4th quarters were basically just holding off the Nuggets at arm's length, as the Spurs continued to play stellar team defense on Anthony. I also thought Timmy was superb in his help defense and at-the rim defense, while gobbling up 16 defensive boards to limit the Nuggets to one-and-done shots.

Fittingly, after playing a superb game all night long, The Wee Frenchman put Denver to sleep with back-to-back triples, punctuated by a Tiago Splitter awkward dunk that scared the bejeezus out of everyone. Way to go to make things anti-climactic, Tiago. But I understand where the aggression was coming from, after all those DNPs. Just, you know, try to make the simpler play, mmmkay?

Today's Game Photo With Meme Potential (GPWMP) - as always, your caption in the comments

Lemme go, Nene! I wanna play! ::whines like a kid::

I don't really have much to say now, so I think I'll go with the Three Stars and end your misery.

Your Three Stars

3 - Manu Ginobili -- 18 points, 3 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, 1 block and 3 TOs. He was superb directing the BAM, and he showed vintage Manu recklessness and grit during the 1st half. Just look at these GIFs and you'll understand why.

2 - Tim Duncan -- 9 points, 16 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks, 3 TOs, +21 for the game. With Bonner out, he played some extra minutes for this one (34 total), and really made an impact on both ends.

1 - Tony Parker -- 30 points on 11-15 FG, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 3 TOs. Wow. I mean... just wow. He took over the game and made Billups look really old. That's two old guys (Kidd and Chauncey) in a row he's decimated.

Context for the game (this isn't required reading and won't be on the test)

As much as the San Antonio Spurs have been a model of stability, consistency and health this season, the Denver Nuggets have been the exact opposite. Denver players have been in and out of the lineup due to injuries or other reasons, and they've been under-performing considering their collective talent and years of playing together; remember, they still have the core of that 2009 team that made the Western Finals. However, the biggest elephant in the room (that has actually been let loose but persists in hiding its massive rear) is Carmelo Anthony's imminent or not-really-imminent-but-hey-we're-working-on-it trade to the East Coast, possibly to the Russian mafia known as the New Jersey Nets basketball team.

When you've been force fed news in the past few months about how players and their agents have been maneuvering their way into creating super teams, it has made me at least wonder: is this really the future of this league? I guess the immediate thinking is, this would be great for teams in the big media markets or wherever there's a franchise player in his prime, just needing a strong piece or two to take his team over the top. But what about the little guys, the places who aren't anointed by the public to be the "mecca of basketball" or "title town" or whatever stupid championship cliches they have, to cover for what in reality are just teams that dabble in excesses and are built more on flash than substance?

What happened to the blueprint that the Spurs have built in the past decade?

If I remember correctly, in the past year or two, some former Spurs personnel like Danny Ferry, Steve Kerr, and Mike Brown have been forced out of some teams because of this so-called "player takes over destiny" movement. Even Monty Williams and Dell Demps of Hornets management have already had their share of turbulent moments (which they've survived... for now). So again, whatever happened to emulating the Spurs organization anyway? Was it just a fad? A rare occurrence brought about by the star-crossed alignment of a too good to be true superstar with a sensible, disciplined ex-military basketball junkie?

Interviewed about Melo's situation, Tony Parker had this to say:

[Stinks] to play like that. That's why I was happy when I signed. Because all those rumors and New York this, New York that. I can only imagine what Carmelo's going through. It's tough for the whole team, it's tough to get something going, because you never know if the next day you're going to get traded.

As tempting as it is to just say, "Melo, just sign on the f5g dotted line, and it'll all be over", it doesn't work that way, right? Too many characters in the scene making noise all at once, too many big-time people trying to move pieces here and there. The whole thing's just a goddamn mess if you ask me.

As much as people hate LeBron now, or Wade or Bosh or Paul or maybe Carmelo soon, I have to admit, when those guys came into the league, I had hope. These were supposed to be the guys to take the mantle of class and character, the young guns capable of turning a formula as "boring" as Spurs basketball and turn in into something scintillating, without the formula losing its essence. After Duncan's ride, I planned on sticking with my Spurs, while still quietly being able to root for some of these guys with interesting storylines -- the hometown kid who wants to end the city's title drought, or the one who saved basketball in hurricane-devastated New Orleans.

That hope doesn't feel as strong these days. But, it's still there.

I absolutely love Christopher Nolan's Batman movies, and while there are a lot of memorable scenes this exchange between Alfred and Bruce Wayne, for me, is the one that stands out above the rest:

Bruce Wayne: People are dying, Alfred. What would you have me do?

Alfred: Endure, Master Wayne. Take it. They'll hate you for it, but that's the point of Batman. He can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make — the right choice.

The more I think about this conversation, the more I am reminded of the Spurs. While "outcast" is too strong a term to describe the team, it does beg the question, "who in the world wants to root for a boring small-market team?" But I guess that is the point for the existence of the Spurs, right? Being such a perpetually ignored team; they are in the perfect position to do things the right way, without being scrutinized point-by-point by the media or the experts.

"How come you don't have an electrifying player?"

"Why don't you push the ball up and down the floor instead of just slowing things down and grinding opponents into submission?"

"Why do you refuse to engage in trash talk with the other team?"

"Why get old guys instead of young exciting players who can dunk and shoot threes from the parking lot?"

So yeah, basketball, as a team game, as a sport meant to build and showcase camaraderie and discipline and teamwork and professionalism, might be dying. And yet, the Spurs endure. Is it too arrogant and self-righteous to say that, at least for the last decade, they've been making the choice that no one else wants to make, which is play basketball the right way, and win the right way? Sure... after all, we lucked out on the GOATPUFF, and even our players are capable of making mistakes off the court.

The Spurs' model is far from being perfect. But even while surrounded by a league that puts its superstars on a pedestal, values high-flying dunks more than sure-handed layups, and places a premium on a player scoring 30 every game over five players scoring 10 points each, the Spurs' way endures.

And as a fan, I choose to make the choice that not a lot of people want to make. I'm not saying it's the right one, but I'm pretty damn sure it's the closest thing to it.