Well, that wasn't the best way to bounce back from a tough loss. The Spurs dropped their second consecutive game for the first time this season, as they couldn't beat the Nuggets. It was a close one despite six key rotation players being out, but ultimately San Antonio couldn't close strong and lost 102-98. Tim Duncan had a season-high 21 points while Jusuf Nurkic and Emmanuel Mudiay combined for 41 points for Denver.
The start of the game was anything but auspicious. The Spurs starting lineup played a lot like a group of guys who had never shared the court, which was not surprising since, you know, they hadn't. They were extremely sloppy, turning the ball over and not communicating on defense. The Nuggets weren't much sharper but did enough to get a quick double-digit lead. Fortunately San Antonio's bench chipped away at it and the Spurs were only down six after the first quarter
While the collective play still wasn't cohesive, the individual talent available for the Spurs started to make a difference. Kevin Martin and Tim Duncan took turns punishing an inattentive Denver defense and fueled a 35-point second quarter. Unfortunately only the offense clicked, as trouble persisted on the other end, which prevented San Antonio from capitalizing from such a strong scoring period. Will Barton and Nurkic gave the Spurs all kinds of trouble, combining for 17 of their team's 27 points in the frame.
At the start of the second half Duncan picked up where he left off and it looked like building on the lead was a real possibility. Alas, the same problems that plagued the starting unit in the first quarter returned and allowed the Nuggets to take control of the game. This time it wasn't Barton who carried Denver but a different athletic wing. JaKarr Sampson had 14 points in the frame including a thunderous windmill dunk to pace the Nuggets to a 26-point quarter that got them a five-point lead going into the final period.
The Spurs had their chances in the fourth. They erased the deficit and led by as many as four points with 3:40 to go on a gorgeous Duncan buzzer-beating fadeaway. They just couldn't close strong. Martin had several chances to extend the lead but couldn't get his looks to fall and the game went down to the wire. It was tied in the final minute but a couple of turnovers doomed San Antonio to a loss that, while meaningless, could have been avoided.
- Great game for Tim Duncan, the only starter that suited up. Timmy had 21 points, seven rebounds and two assists and held his own while battling with a young and talented Nuggets' big man rotation. Duncan will likely continue to see his minutes dwindle when the Spurs need to go small but he's clearly still a productive player,, even at his age.
- Kyle Anderson and Patty Mills had dreadful shooting nights. Slowmo went 1-for-9 from the floor and Patty 2-for-12 (1-for-5 from beyond the arc). Both contributed in other areas and have already secured rotation spots, so this game changes very little for them. The Spurs needed them to score in order to have a chance, however, and at least on Friday they couldn't deliver.
- With those two cold, San Antonio would have been out of the game earlier if not for the work of Jonathon Simmons and Kevin Martin. Simmons mostly used his athleticism to get a very efficient 15 points in seven shots while Martin used his trickery to accrue his 17. The former Timberwolf did struggle late but that doesn't change the fact that he helped the Spurs stay alive earlier.
- Boban Marjanovic and Andre Miller had decent games. Nothing noteworthy but they weren't a drain either. The same goes for Matt Bonner, who turned back the clock in his own way, finishing with just two points but a +14 in the plus minus column in just 13 minutes. Vintage Bonner.
- David West (17 points, seven rebounds, five blocks) is a pro. That's typically something that's said of mediocre or bad players who work hard in practice but it applies to West as well. The guy is always ready to play. He knows his limitations, so he doesn't try to do too much but gives all his effort. Those are all cliches, I know. But they are true. I really hope he decides to stay in San Antonio next season.
- I've been obsessed with Nikola Jokic all season and Jusuf Nurkic was a favorite of mine last year. Jokic's passing is outstanding and Nurkic can score and protect the rim. I doubt they will be able to play together, as neither has the quickness to guard perimeter-oriented bigs full time, but I can't blame Michael Malone for trying to find out for sure. If they can, Denver will have a great big man tandem for the future.
The Spurs will host the Warriors on Sunday. They need the win if they hope to finish the season perfect at home. More importantly, beating Golden State again at the AT&T Center could give the team a much-needed confidence boost after the loss at Oracle on Thursday.
For the opponent's perspective, visit the fantastic Denver Stiffs.