Wednesday night, the Nuggets visited San Antonio hoping to end the Spurs' winning streak at 14 games. The Nuggets came into the contest playing decent basketball, winning seven of their last 13 games. Additionally, they are basically the league's streak stoppers, most recently ending the Clippers run. However, this season has been a rough one for the Nuggets. They started the year well, but their season was derailed by injuries. They lost J.J. Hickson, Danilo Gallinari, Javale McGee and Nate Robinson to season-ending injuries. While Denver may be hampered, the Spurs would soon find out that the Nuggets do not employ quitters.
In the first half, the Spurs continued their stellar play that has won them 14 straight games. Throughout the entire half I kept noticing that the Nuggets were not playing poorly, the Spurs were just playing that well. The Spurs moved the ball with their precision passes and the Nuggets simply could not keep pace. In the first half, the Spurs shot 57% from the field and three, while assisting on 19 of their 24 made field goals. The Spurs were up 63-43 at intermission, and I was pretty sure there was no way the Nuggets could comeback.
The Spurs were led by Danny Green and Tim Duncan in the first half. Danny "Big" Green was icy-HOT, as opposed to ICY-hot, hitting five of his seven 3-pointers enroute to 16 first half points. Unfortunately, Danny was seen limping in the second half, and was eventually taken to the locker-room and diagnosed with a mid-foot sprain. The tweets I am reading sound ominous. We will obviously follow this injury closely at PtR and keep you informed.
So the Spurs were up 20 at half and looked unstoppable. From the Nuggets' perspective, being down 20 points at halftime while not playing terribly had to be incredibly demoralizing. Most teams would have quit at that point, especially with the current tank-a-palooza fest taking place. All the cool kids are doing it, after all. Well apparently, this thought never crossed the mind of anyone in their locker-room, because they came out in the third quarter and continued to fight.
To be fair, the Spurs greatly aided them in the comeback by assuming, as I did, that the game was over and they basically stopped playing with intent. Whereas every pass had a desired result in the first half, even if it was four chess moves away, in the second half the Spurs quit using their brains. After turning the ball over seven times in the entire first half, the Spurs turned it over seven times in the third quarter, eight times in the fourth. It was very sloppy and difficult to watch. It's amazing how a team can go from flawless to pitiful over the halftime break.
While the Nuggets only made up three points in the third quarter, you could feel the momentum shifting as the AT&T crowd went from a roar to nervous whispers. In the fourth, the Nuggets continued what they started in the third and went on a lengthy run. Over the first 6:30 of action, Denver went on a 18-6 run to cut the Spurs' once 24 point lead down to five. At that point the Spurs woke up and started trading baskets with the Nuggets.
Popovich gave up on his dream to rest his guys in the fourth and put his closers in the game: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw and the venerable Tim Duncan. The Nuggets continued to claw but the closers did not fold and pulled out a win. Can I let you in on a little secret? I think this was a fantastic game for the Spurs, (aside from Danny's injury, obviously).
In this case, the Spurs won yet felt the sting of a loss. The Spurs took the Nuggets for granted in the second half and Denver embarrassed them. Things have come too easily to the Spurs for a long time now. They are blowing everyone out. Even the kind of close games weren't really close. They didn't make Pop sweat. This one did, and Pop put the closing lineup back in the game.
Tony, Manu, Kawhi, Boris and Tim need reps in tight contests. When the games get close in the playoffs, the Spurs need that unit to have an established chemistry, and they cannot develop that during 20-plus point blowouts. For me, the last 3:30 was impressive. The Spurs' closers stopped a red-hot Nuggets team that was overflowing with confidence. The closers shut them down and managed to win somewhat comfortably. That is incredibly difficult to do. They stopped a furious comeback and rebuilt the lead. In a win-streak like this one, a win that felt like a loss is very valuable.
The Spurs will next face the Nuggets in Denver. I'm betting that the Spurs do not forget the second half of this game and will play with purpose in Denver. This near-loss just might extend the streak another several games longer than a 30 point win would have.
- We need to talk about Tim Duncan. Last night, I watched Dallas beat OKC. Dirk went nuts in the fourth and won the game. I found myself thinking, Tim is having a great year, but I'm not sure he could still carry the Spurs through a rugged fourth quarter. Well, it took less than 24 hours for Tim to make me feel like an idiot. The Nuggets couldn't stop him. In the last 4:45 of the game, as the Nuggets were mounting their furious comeback, Tim scored 11 of the Spurs' final 12 points. It was perhaps his best performance of the season. He finished with 29 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks. He made 12 of 20 shots, five of six from the line. Unbelievable.