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Spurs run out of gas against the Nuggets and lose fourth straight

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The Spurs went toe to toe with Denver for most of the game, but had nothing left late and extended the losing streak.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Following an embarrassing blowout loss to the lowly Cavaliers on Monday, the Spurs put up a better fight, but still fell to a superior Denver team. San Antonio kept pace with the Nuggets for most of the contest but ran out of steam late, and you have to wonder how the team will manage its energy levels with more than a month left in the season when fatigue is already starting to set in.

The game began with both teams exchanging quick baskets, as the Spurs created good looks with a free-flowing offense that relied on motion and ball movement. Meanwhile, Denver utilized Nikola Jokic’s transcendent passing by cutting to the basket since they knew that the Joker would find them no matter how little room he had. With the Nuggets’ recent acquisition of Aaron Gordon, they now have one of the biggest starting lineups in the league, and this was especially evident when it came to rebounding; Denver generated numerous second chances off of their own misses, and Michael Porter Jr. grabbed seven boards in the first quarter alone.

When the two benches hit the floor, the scoring instantly dried up for both sides. San Antonio’s offense became stagnant after moving with purpose earlier in the game, resulting in isolations that only generated low percentage shots. Gorgui Dieng, in particular, looked lost on the court, throwing passes directly to Nuggets players while also getting in the way of his teammates. On the other hand, Denver sorely missed the playmaking of Jokic with Javale McGee subbing in for him, as they struggled to create scoring chances and resorted to desperate shots with the clock winding down.

However, the script flipped once again after halftime, with the Spurs scoring 12 straight to begin the third quarter. The good guys even briefly led by double digits at one point as Denver looked discombobulated on offense, but it didn’t take them long to regain their footing. Following a timeout, the Nuggets began generating chances at will off of their pinpoint passing and shooting and answered San Antonio’s run with one of their own, scoring 11 straight to get back in the contest.

The game was still up for grabs at that point but the good guys just couldn’t slow Denver’s momentum and the home team stretched their lead to 15 and all but guaranteed a win. The Spurs went over seven minutes without making a basket from the end of the third quarter to the beginning of the fourth, completely losing confidence in their shooting in the process. Pop waved the white flag and subbed out the starters with 5:30 left in the game, with the Nuggets wrapping it up 106-96.

Game notes

  • As I mentioned above, Dieng struggled during his brief playing time, and it’s obvious that he’s still getting integrated within the Spurs system. I’m not overly concerned with his play since he’s been with the team for only a week, but I wonder if we’ll see him even less over the next couple of games as he gets more familiar with the team. Perhaps Dieng will get more minutes later in the season when he’s become more comfortable in the system, but it’s definitely an interesting storyline to watch.
  • The Nuggets out-rebounded the Spurs 53-42 overall, and I actually expected a larger discrepancy between the two teams. However, I don’t think this should be too big of a concern because it has more to do with playstyle and personnel than anything, but if San Antonio wants to bounce back on Friday, they’ll need to do a better job of containing Denver on the boards.
  • Over their last 19 games, the Nuggets are 16-3 and have also won seven straight. Denver has been one of the hottest teams in the league for over a month now and are legitimate title threats, so a loss like this shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise. The real problem with the Spurs recently has been the winnable games that they’ve dropped, such as the shellacking they took from Cleveland on Monday and also losing to the Pacers, who were without both Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon. Losses against contenders like the Nuggets is quite tolerable when they win games that they’re supposed to, but unfortunately, that just hasn’t been the case.
  • Jakob Poeltl did a decent job of containing Jokic in the paint but was exposed whenever he was brought out to defend the perimeter. Porter Jr. drove right past him for an easy dunk in the first quarter and was also fouled by him later in the game that resulted in three free throws, so the Spurs need to find better ways of keeping Poeltl in the paint to play to his strengths.
  • After averaging almost 27 points over his past four games, Demar DeRozan was limited to just 14 tonight and looked like he didn’t have anything left in the tank in the second half. San Antonio’s schedule only gets tougher from here, so I don’t expect the team to hold him out for any rest, but that might also result in a drop in performance for DeRozan. The Spurs need to strike a delicate balance to keep their players fresh, and I honestly don’t know how they plan on doing that.

Next game: Vs. Nuggets on Friday

Denver seems to be peaking at the right time so it will be difficult to pull out a win, but perhaps the Spurs’ desperation could give them a shot on Friday.