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Spurs collapse in familiar fashion in the Mile High City

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

As the Spurs’ lead ballooned into the 20s midway through the 3rd quarter of their eventual loss to the Nuggets’ on Monday night, the ensuing letdown and compulsory comeback was as predictable as it was painful. Bruno called it, in fact.

With this team, there’s just no such thing as a safe lead with more than a minute or two to go, especially on the road. Despite a 40 point 1st quarter, a 13 point halftime advantage, and a 23 point lead with 6:40 left in the 3rd quarter, Bruno was right to be skeptical.

Sure enough, the home team’s shots started falling, the Pepsi Center crowd finally got fired up, and the Spurs gave up another game-changing run in the middle of the 2nd half. This time, it was a 27-7 explosion - including of course a streak of 5 made threes in a row - over 5 and half minutes of game time spanning the end of the 3rd quarter and the beginning of the 4th that brought the Nuggets from down 20 to tie it up at 95 all.

The Spurs were still in the game at that point, though. Even after giving up that run and allowing the Nuggets to take their very first lead of the contest three minutes into the 4th quarter, the Silver and Black fought back. They retook the lead and built it up to 5 points before ultimately succumbing to another Nuggets burst and were outscored 23-11 the rest of the way.

The Spurs’ defense, especially when the intensity got ratcheted up, just couldn’t compete. Whether it was a parade of open threes, a layup line running to the rim, or the open midrangers Jamal Murray used to seize the lead for good, the team was simply unable to take enough things away from the Nuggets’ offense once they got rolling.

That’s the driving issues behind the Spurs’ recent run of ineptitude and it has shifted the very nature of their games. What once was a winning machine has transformed into the bad kind of inevitable, like a bizarro Thanos, happily snapping their way into the lottery. Put another way, the Spurs are either the worst 2nd half team the league has ever seen, or they’re trying to turn tanking into high art.

Either way, the team now finds itself 5 games out of 8th place and 1 game ahead of 13th nearly two thirds of the way through the season. The time for changes, whether in the rotation or through trades, has come and gone. This is the team they’ve got, and this is the kind of result they should expect with this team.

Notes from the game

  • Lonnie Walker IV started in place of DeMar DeRozan, who was a late scratch due to back spasms. Lonnie played a solid game on both ends of the floor, though he scored just 4 points to go with 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals. As usual for Lonnie, though, the numbers don’t capture style and the 2nd year player go way UP for an impressive layup and repeatedly put pressure on the Nuggets’ defense by pushing the ball up the floor, including a very nice play off a steal where he fed it to Dejounte Murray on the break for an easy bucket.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge led the way for the Silver and Black, putting up 33 points on 25 shots, including a 4 of 8 performance from deep. When he wasn’t bombing away, LaMarcus nearly killed the Nuggets with his turnaround, burying several and drawing a shooting foul on one as well.
  • Six other Spurs scored in double figures, too, led by Derrick White with 15 and Dejounte Murray and Bryn Forbes who each had 14. The offense definitely held up its end of the bargain with 120 points on just 93 possessions. As a team, the Spurs shot 16/32 from deep and 22/25 from the free throw line, both key reasons why they were able to put up so many points.
  • But most of the team’s outrageous scoring came in a 40 point 1st quarter. After that, the Spurs scored 27 in the 2nd and 4th quarters and just 26 in the 3rd. The Nuggets, meanwhile, put up 74 points in the 2nd half.
  • Jamal Murray paced the Nuggets with 26 points and Paul Millsap chipped in 22. Nikola Jokic scored a quiet 19 points to go with 8 rebounds and 13 assists. As a whole, the Nuggets shot 56% from the floor and made 18 of their 35 three point attempts.

Next game: @ the Thunder on Tuesday

The Spurs will travel to Oklahoma City for a chance to end their four game skid.