The San Antonio Spurs welcomed back guard Manu Ginobili Sunday evening as they hosted the Denver Nuggets, however it would be the short-handed Nuggets who walked off the floor of the AT&T Center with a 99-94 victory in San Antonio.
“I thought they did a great job of attacking the rim,” said Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich after the game on the Nuggets, “being aggressive with the basketball and we responded to it in fits and spurts here and there.”
“They were much more consistent with their aggressiveness than we were.”
The Nuggets were without four players, Nene, Rudy Fernandez, Danilo Gallinari, and even Timofey Mozgov re-injured his left ankle.
Though the Spurs’ squad was finally all in uniform, forward Tim Duncan (14 points, 9 rebounds) wasn’t at full health as he was suffering flu-like symptoms Sunday.
“I don’t think he was at his best,” said Popovich, “He wanted to play and he felt good to play, so we tried to massage it as best we could.”
“I thought he gave a heck of an effort considering everything.”
The Nuggets came out with an 11-2 start to take the lead early in the first quarter on the Spurs, the Spurs would tie once, but would never take the lead from Denver the entire night.
Matt Bonner (11 points) lead the Spurs with eight points in the first quarter while Arron Affalo (14 points) paced the Nuggets with nine points to start the game. The Nuggets lead 25-17 after one.
After going scoreless in the first quarter, Tony Parker (25 points, 7 assists) was finally able to get into the paint as he scored 12 points alone in the second. At the 5:45 mark, the AT&T Center erupted with cheers as Ginobili (8 points) made his first return to the AT&T Center of the year. Ginobili’s first attempted shot was a made shot that forced Nuggets coach George Karl to call a quick timeout.
The Nuggets, lead by Andre Miller (11 points) and Al Harrington (16 points) were able to get their lead up to 16 points with 8:13 in the second quarter. From there, the Spurs lead by Parker and Kawhi Leonard (13 points) went on a 21-6 run to close the Nuggets’ gap to 49-45 at halftime.
Parker was once again dominant in the third quarter with nine points, and Tiago Splitter got into the mix as well with all six of his points coming the third quarter. The Nuggets still had too much scoring from all over as Ty Lawson (22 points, 11 assists) and Harrington combined for 15 points in the third quarter. The Nuggets took a 75-71 lead into the final quarter.
Rookie Kenneth Faried (11 points) was a spark for Denver on both sides of the ball as he had big dunks and key blocks to fuel his teammates, the rookie had five points in the fourth quarter.
The Spurs just couldn’t get over the hump in the fourth quarter as they trimmed the Nuggets lead down to one, but then with 29 seconds remaining and the Spurs down 95-94, Lawson hit a long jump shot to give the Nuggets a 97-94 lead with 11 seconds remaining.
Lawson spoke of his dagger after the game, “It’s huge, a lot of teams have been doing it to us,” said Lawson, “to see the reaction on Pop’s face like ‘damn, what are we going to do now’ is priceless.”
Lawson indeed was the man for the Nuggets as he outshined Parker with seven points in the fourth quarter for the Nuggets.
The Spurs would get one more chance to tie, but a Gary Neal missed shot was the final stamp on the game.
The Spurs have to look at their defense in this loss, as they just weren’t able to get consistent stops during the game. Most of that is credited to their lack rebounding. The Nuggets outrebounded the Spurs 49-40, but the Nuggets’ 10-5 offensive rebounds was the biggest difference.
“We had too many strategic mistakes down the stretch defensively,” said Popovich, “we had breakdowns that were really gross and really hurt us. That combined with their physicality and their aggressiveness for much more of the 48 than we did, accounts for our demise tonight.”
The Spurs will have two days off to look at their defense and they might want to consider working on their free throw shooting, they shot 20-of-27 in the game from the free throw line, and most misses were key in the fourth quarter.
The Spurs will host “Linsanity” as the New York Knicks and media sensation Jeremy Lin will be in town for the only time this season on Wednesday. With the loss, the Spurs move to 25-12 on the season, they’re now 14-3 at home and 1-2 post All-Star break.