The Spurs were coming off a game in San Antonio the night before and it showed in this loss, as they seemed a step slower than the Nuggets all night long. Tony, Tim and Manu didn't make the trip (and won't play the next two games, either), and that left the offense in the hands of Kawhi and backup point guards Cory Joseph and Nando de Colo.
If you're wanting to know why Denver won (and it's the preseason, so you may not), look no further than Kenneth Faried. The second-year forward doesn't have a "Preseason" setting -- in fact, I don't think there's any setting other than "Manimal" -- and Faried beat the Spurs players down the floor on numerous occasions, leading to plenty of crowd-pleasing dunks. Faried ended up scoring 22 points in just 20 minutes of play.
The final score was a bit closer than Denver coach Brian Shaw would've liked, as the Spurs stormed back from a 84-95 deficit with under two minutes remaining to make it a bit interesting.
The game wasn't pretty, it didn't have a great personality, and you probably wouldn't even set up your overweight friend who's on the rebound on a date with it. The two teams combined for 36 turnovers (22 of which were San Antonio's), as players showcased their offseason rust through a series of moving screens and traveling violations.
There was still plenty to take away from the loss, though. Here are my thoughts.
The Spurs are hoping that Kawhi Leonard can become comfortable as a focal point of the offense this year and if tonight's game is anything to go by, there's plenty of reason to be excited. Kawhi looked both aggressive and opportunistic with the ball in his hands.
On an early play, he recognized the mismatch he had against the smaller Ty Lawson. Instinctively, Kawhi first looked to post up the smaller defender. When the double team came, Kawhi was forced to pass out, but he quickly asked for the ball back. After getting the pass, he sized up Lawson and then sunk the easy 18-footer over him.
There was an understated intensity to Leonard's game, perhaps best exemplified by an unmistakable look of disapprobation after being called for a charge (emotion, yay!). More than anyone else on the Spurs, Kawhi looked to push the ball up the court and had two or three strong finishes at the rim. If there was a low point, it was Leonard 2-8 shooting from the free throw line.
Leonard had 13 points, 12 rebounds and four assists.
Whether it was because his shots just weren't falling (he went 1-8 from the field) or because it was a SEGABABA, Maggette was out of sync all night. Offensively, he took plenty of jumpshots and did what he could to get in the lane and draw fouls. Defensively, he was often out of position and failed to box his man out on multiple occasions, leading to easy put-backs for the Nuggets.
Joseph got the start and played most of the first half. The Spurs attack doesn't quite sing with him on the floor instead of Tony, but it does hum. Joseph committed zero turnovers and shot very well (6-9) as he stayed in the flow of the offense. He came around screens to hit shots and even hit a few Tony-esque runners in the lane. He also exhibited some good chemistry with Tiago, as Splitter found him on back cuts a few times for easy lay-ins.
Nando de Colo
De Colo checked in at the start of the 3rd quarter and showed both the good and bad that comes with his style of play. He scored 8 points in the quarter, hitting from outside as well as on a nifty runner off the glass. He also had four turnovers, and miscued on the pick-and-roll more often than not. Still, the Spurs outscored Denver 29-20 in the period and were a +5 with de Colo on the floor, as opposed to the -13 Joseph posted.
In games where Tony doesn't play, it's necessary for Diaw to be the team's Swiss Army knife. Boris was a facilitator on offense, looking for his shot but also setting plenty of screens and finding his teammates.
Aside from hitting Joseph with some good passes, there wasn't much new out of Tiago. He still looks more comfortable taking hook shots out of the low block than going up to the basket strong. He had 12 points but turned the ball over a game-high five times as well.
Marco Belinelli and Jeff Ayres
In a combined 35 minutes, neither of the Spurs new acquisitions did much. In fact, I was surprised that Ayres was on the floor as long as he was since he took just one shot, and perhaps more worryingly, had just one rebound. Marco meanwhile stayed very much within the offense, shooting 2-6 for 5 points in 20 minutes of play.
Danny Green played just seven minutes, taking the shots he was given on one side and struggling to contain Randy Foye on the other. It was a small sample size, but I'm not sure we can expect much improvement over last year from Green. Aron Baynes looked every part the big body the Spurs will need in spot minutes. He showed a good little hook shot and was comfortable getting the ball under the basket. Patty Mills played only six minutes and didn't do much with it. Training camp signing Dan Nwaele saw some action tonight, hitting a three-pointer in the first half. He likely won't make the final roster but it wasn't a bad showing for him.