The Spurs continued their dominant March by completing the season sweep of the hobbled Nuggets with home-and-home wins.
Marco Belinelli got the start in Danny Green's place but the Spurs bigs were the story early in the game. Tim Duncan started out hot, connecting on five of his ten shots in the first quarter while Tiago Splitter was very active on defense and on the boards. Kenneth Faried and Timofey Mozgov refused to be outplayed, however. They combined for 13 points and helped Denver keep the score close. But when the benches checked in, the Spurs' depth proved too much for the shorthanded Nuggets to handle. Belinelli went off for four three pointers off feeds from Ginobili, Mills, and Diaw. The Spurs took over the game late in the first and would never trail again.
That same bench unit but with Joseph in for Manu simply couldn't keep the pace. The Nuggets got some bench scoring from Evan Fournier and remained at striking distance. The starters returned only to play uninspired, sloppy ball on offense but Denver just couldn't find any answers to crack the Spurs' defense. With Faried trying to do too much after a great start and Mozgov unable to score on the pick-and-roll, their offense dried out. Unfortunately for Brian Shaw's guys, that's exactly when things started clicking for the Spurs again. The ball movement returned (18 assists on 26 makes for the half) and the Spurs started getting whatever they wanted. Going into the halftime break the lead was 19, 62-43 Spurs.
The second half was filler, really. After putting a scare on the Spurs in San Antonio by trimming the lead significantly in the fourth quarter the previous game, the Nuggets simply didn't have it in them this time around. Randy Foye got hot from outside early in the third and cut the lead to 17 but the outcome of the game was never in question, as the lead just kept growing and growing. Denver got another loss that might get them a better position in the draft and the Spurs got to keep their distance from OKC at the top of the West.
- Tim Duncan finished with 20 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks on just 22 minutes because he is still by far the most complete big man in the game. More importantly, he went 3-5 from mid-range. If Duncan is hitting jumpers from the elbow, the Spurs' offense is pretty much unstoppable.
- Tony Parker was distractingly bad this time around. The team didn't need him so he gets a pass but something was off about Parker tonight. To make matters worse, Manu and Boris weren't much better. It's probably nothing to worry about -- for all I know they are taking it easy with the Spurs cruising. We'll know for sure if there is cause for concern when the Spurs start playing tougher teams in the next few days.
- Marco Belinelli is not only a great shooter but also very, very smart. He went 6-7 from three in the first half, punishing the defense for giving him even a sliver of room. Because of that, Denver started playing him tight away from the ball and closing out hard when he got the pass. So he started pump-faking and driving or making backdoor cuts for easy shots and trips to the line. What a perfect fit for the Spurs he's ended up being.
- Kawhi Leonard was everywhere in the first half as reflected by his 12 points, four assists, four rebounds, a steal and two blocks when the game was still close. That's exactly the type of contribution the Spurs will need from him to win a title.
- Patty Mills helped keep the Nuggets at bay with 16 second half points. Pop sent him in early in the third quarter when Parker was at his worst and Patty responded well.
- Jeff Ayres was the second big off the bench. It makes sense since the Nuggets don't really have a back up center for Baynes to guard but I found it odd, considering Baynes seemed to have earned the spot as fourth big.
- Austin Daye is doing everything in his power to have his contract guaranteed for next season. His shooting form is pretty and at 6'10" he could become a solid stretch four if he puts on some weight. With Bonner unlikely to be re-signed, the spot will be open.
- The Nuggets did a great job of taking advantage of a weakness in the Spurs' pick-and-roll coverage in the first half. The Spurs usually have their bigs drop back, which allows the ball-handler to make the pocket pass early in the play to the big at around the free throw line. From there, someone will slide over and help on the dive man if the pass is made. But the Spurs were not rotating quickly enough, which allowed the Denver bigs to take a power dribble, get to the rim and finish. San Antonio mostly corrected it in the second half but it seemed the Nuggets' willingness to make that pass time and time again took them by surprise.
- Keneth Faried was involved in two alley oop buckets...as the passer. It will be very interesting to see what the Nuggets do with him this off-season. They have a very expensive but likely mediocre roster and should be open to trading anyone for the right price. The Manimal will be on a very favorable contract and is both productive and talented enough to have significant value. Will Denver trust he can continue to develop in the defensive end or sell high after a great end of the season? That franchise is at a cross roads and it will be fascinating to see how they handle things.
The Spurs will play against the Pelicans in San Antonio on Saturday. Both teams will be on a SEGABABA but the Pelicans might be missing Anthony Davis, who left the game in his team's win against Utah in the first quarter with an ankle injury. With a win against New Orleans, the Spurs would tie a franchise record for consecutive wins at 17.
For the opponent's perspective, visit Denver Stiffs