The Spurs looked to extend their three-game winning streak tonight with the Nuggets continuing to adjust to their new interim coach, Melvin Hunt, after the firing of Brian Shaw earlier in the week. The Nuggets went a mediocre 20-39 under Shaw but won their last two under Hunt.
The Spurs really took care of business against Sacramento on Wednesday night, leading Spurs fans to think that things may be coming together for the team late in the season and a climb up the Western Conference standings seems possible.
Spurs, in their camouflage uniforms to honor those who serve our country, came out with military-like focus. They began the game a near perfect 10-for-11, with Tony Parker being extremely aggressive. From tip-off he had the mindset that he could take Ty Lawson whenever he wanted. THAT was the confidence we've been looking for from the former finals MVP.
Coach Popovich picked up a technical a mere three minutes into the game but it didn't slow the Spurs down too much. San Antonio couldn't miss early in the first, masking an impressive 12 points on 4/4 shooting from Lawson. Patty Mills was the only Spur who couldn't get himself going early, missing his first five shots in the game.
After jumping out to a 10 point lead, some sloppy play from the good guys led to Denver closing out the quarter on a 7-0 run, and they extended that run to 11-0 with two quick buckets to start the second.
A high-scoring first two quarters left the Spurs leading the Nuggets 65-60 at halftime. Both teams were hot in the first half: The Nuggets shot 53.5% (11% above their average), and the Spurs shot a sizzling 61.4% (16% above their average). The Spurs' poor defense was the main reason the Nuggets were able to stay in the game
Parker, Tim Duncan, and Kawhi Leonard were a combined 17-for-22 in the half. Parker was attacking, Leonard was hitting his jumpers, and Duncan was bullying the smaller defender inside. The Spurs also had an impressive 15 assists at the break with only five turnovers.
After Lawson matched his per-game average and scored 16 in the first half, Pop assigned Kawhi to cover him at the start of the third. Denver's small line-up allows for Pop to mix-and-match San Antonio's defensive match-ups like that.
The Spurs defense was slightly better in the second half, but it wasn't great. They allowed way too much guard penetration from Jameer Nelson and Lawson, even after putting Kawhi on Ty. Every offensive possession for the Nuggets seemed like either a lay-up from one of those two, or a drop-off to a rolling big man.
The fourth quarter wasn't much different. Every time the Spurs gained an edge, Lawson would come back to make it a one or two possession game. He ended the night with 23 points and nine assists.
Luckily, some strong late-game play from Kawhi and Parker as well as a big three from Danny Green that put San Antonio up six with two minutes to go gave the good guys the cushion they needed to come out with the win.
Your Spurs improve to 38-23, getting closer and closer to catching the Mavericks for the sixth spot in the Western Conference. The West is so close, though, that the Spurs are only four losses back from the three seed. It's hard to make a prediction of how the West will shake out come playoff time.
- Tony Parker was terrific. I saw no sign of hesitation on the offensive end. He was 10-of-15 with 24 points and dished out seven assists to just one turnover. Tony is so dangerous when he's being aggressive and getting in the lane. When he penetrates enough, he earns himself the choice to take a lay-up/floater when he blows by the guard, or to drop it off inside when the big man steps up. That's exactly what we need from him.
- Tony, Kawhi, and Duncan were 26-for-40 from the floor tonight with 64 combined points. Leonard also earned himself eight boards, four assists, three blocks and a steal. Spurs would have to try REALLY hard to lose a game with play like that from those three guys.
- The Spurs started off 5/5 from three, and then went 4/19 from behind the arc after that. The team hasn't been great from three this year, but that's just relative to last years' numbers -- it shocks me every time I see that SA is sixth in three point shooting this season.
- Defense was a problem tonight. SA allowed Denver, which currently ranks 28th in field goal percentage to shoot 52.3% tonight. The Spurs need to lock down defensively if they really want to close out the season on a high note.
- The Spurs improved to 22-7 at home, and must go 10-2 at home for the rest of the season to match the 32-9 home record of last year. That's definitely doable, especially with four straight home games coming up while the Spurs seem to be on a roll.
- Duncan, with three blocks tonight, has passed Patrick Ewing for 6th on the all-time blocks list. Next on the list, David Robinson.
The Bulls come to the AT&T center on Sunday for the third game of a six-game home-stretch.