AT&T CENTER – Going into the fourth quarter on Wednesday against the Denver Nuggets, the San Antonio Spurs were leading by 17 points. Due to 15 turnovers by the Spurs in the second half, the Nuggets were able to trim the Spurs’ lead down to five points with 5:02 minutes remaining. The Spurs desperately needed scoring and playmaking, and so they sought that from the oldest player on their team, Tim Duncan.
Duncan scored 11 straight points for the Spurs in a span of 4:34 minutes, and when he was done, the Spurs found themselves ahead 107-99. Though the Nuggets played San Antonio down to the final possessions of the game, the Spurs held on for the 108-103 victory, to extend their winning streak to 15 straight games. Along with Duncan leading the way with 29 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, two steals, and two blocks, four other Spurs scored in double-figures. One of those scorers, Danny Green, scored 16 points alone, but then ended up getting injured in the process, as Green played minimal minutes in the second half, and was sidelined with a Right Mid-Foot Sprain. Here were a few keys to the Spurs’ 55th win of the season.
A month from turning 38, Duncan can still carry Spurs
“He played a great all-around game,” said Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich of Duncan after the game. “Probably nobody noticed, but his assists, boards, scoring – he was the guy that kept it together.”
Duncan was the most consistent player the Spurs went to throughout the night as he also scored 10 points in the first quarter, six in the third, and finished the fourth with 11 points. With Denver only having Kenneth Faried, Timofey Mozgov, and Darrell Arthur as their main frontline, Duncan had his way with Denver’s defense. The Nuggets defense contested 11 of Duncan’s shots, but he still made 55% of them. Of his nine uncontested shots, he made six of them (67%).
“They did not double-team till late in the game, so he was wide open playing his game,” said Tony Parker after the game of Duncan. “He was great tonight.”
As you can see by his shot chart, most of Duncan’s damage came in the paint. However, he was still able to make his outside jumper, which he’s struggled with a majority of the season.
“I have not made it all season, so they are living with it right now,” said Duncan of his mid-range game. “It is coming back a little bit and hopefully I can continue to make that shot.”
“He was happy,” said Parker of Duncan making the mid-range jumpers. “He has been working on that a lot and he knows that we are going to need that during the playoffs. Tonight, he shot with confidence.”
On the glass, of his 19 rebounding chances, Duncan pulled down 13 of them. Along with his five assists, two of Duncan’s assists were secondary assists. Duncan will turn 38 years old next month on April 25, and yet he still ran the third most miles on the team (2.4 miles) and scored 29 points in late March.
Duncan recorded his 28th double-double of the season according to the Spurs’ PR department. That means that in 65 games this season, Duncan has put up a double-double in 43% of them. If you were to factor out the games where he only plays three quarters due to blowouts, the percentage could be much higher.
A tale of two halves
The Spurs went into the half leading by 20 points, shooting 57% from the field, they had made 8-of-14 three pointers, and had just six turnovers. In the second half, the story changed, and a lot of that had to do with the mental preparation in the second half according to Parker.
“They made it competitive,” said Parker of the second half. “They played with a lot of energy. We missed a lot of easy stuff, little lay-ups, stuff we always make. They got back in the game, but it happens sometimes. We are not going to beat everyone by 20.”
“We played a good half, and we played a bad half,” said Coach Popovich simply after the game. “The NBA’s a 48 minute game.”
After turning the ball over 17 times Monday against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Spurs turned the ball over 21 times against the Nuggets. With those 21 turnovers, the Spurs gave 27 points back to Denver, which allowed the Nuggets to get within four points in the second half.
“We moved the ball too much which caused some turnovers and those turnovers turned into points,” said Duncan, who attributed the turnovers to too much passing.
Going further into the numbers, six Spurs players touched the ball 40 or more times in the game, while six also threw 30 or more passes. Manu Ginobili said the Nuggets made an effort in increasing their defense in the second half, and the numbers were proof. The Spurs shot 77 contested jumpers in the game and just 33 uncontested looks. Even though they had more shots contested, they shot 48.9% on the night and threw 30 assists on 43 made baskets, a 70% assist rate when rounded.
The one area that disappeared in the second half was the Spurs’ 3-point shooting. After shooting 8-of-14 in the first half, the Spurs finished the night cold, shooting 0-of-6 from three in the second half.
Some other notable lines from Spurs players: Danny Green (16 points), Parker (6 assists), Tiago Splitter (10 points, 5 assists), Kawhi Leonard (6 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 blocks).
The not-so pretty fourth quarter defense
Coming into Wednesday, the Spurs had only been giving up 95.9 points per game during their winning streak. The Nuggets scored 103 points on the night and a big chunk of that scoring was due to the Spurs’ fourth quarter defense. The Nuggets scored 36 points in the fourth, shot 54% from the field, and forced eight Spurs turnovers, which turned into 12 points in transition for Denver in the fourth. Faried scored 15 points in the fourth, while Aaron Brooks scored seven off the bench in those final 12 minutes. The Nuggets assisted on 9 of their 13 made baskets in the fourth.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Spurs’ defense responds on Friday as the two teams meet again in Denver.
Green injured, to be examined Thursday
In the first half, Green made a corner 3-pointer to score 16 points in 15:53 minutes, including going 5-of-7 from beyond the arc, to help send the Spurs into the half leading by 20 points. When the second half started, Ginobili started the second half in place of Green. On the bench, Green was hobbling on his right leg and trying to walk it off. Green played 1:23 minutes in the third, but was clearly hobbled as he couldn’t run at full speed. Popovich then subbed him out, he went to the locker room, and then news came, he wouldn’t return to the game with a right mid-foot sprain.
“Well all of a sudden he couldn’t walk,” said Popovich of Green. “The bottom of his foot or something, they’re going to x-ray him. I’m just guessing plantar fasciitis or something like that, but all of a sudden he couldn’t walk.”
Green will have his foot examined on Thursday and his status is unknown for Friday. In the locker room, he was wearing a gray boot on the foot.
A look into the 15-game winning streak
During their 15-game winning streak, the Spurs are beating teams by an average of 15.0 points per game. The Spurs are scoring 111.3 points, shooting 49.1% from the field, 43.1% from three, collecting 28.9 assists, and only turning the ball over 14.5 times per game. Defensively, they’re holding teams to 96.3 points per game during the streak.
The Spurs are ranked first in Offensive Rating with 111.5 points per 100 possessions and ranked second in Defensive Rating by holding teams to 97.7 points per 100 possessions during the streak.
Where San Antonio Stands
- Regular Season: 55-16 (Lead the NBA)
- Home Record: 28-8 (Lead the NBA)
- Vs. Opponents with -.500 records: 31-2 (Lead the NBA)
- Vs. The Western Conference: 32-10
- Post All-Star Break Record: 17-1 (Lead the NBA)
- Since Kawhi Leonard returned from injury: 15-0
- The Spurs are 13-0 in the month of March.
- The Spurs are 23-0 when Tiago Splitter scores in double-figures.
- The Spurs are 30-0 when Tiago Splitter scores over 7 points in a game.
(All Stats and Player Tracking data via NBA.com)