Both teams without one of their marquee names, the Tony Parker-less San Antonio Spurs
(27-19) showed little signs of life against the Carmelo Anthony-less Denver Nuggets (32-15) in a nationally-televised showdown Sunday afternoon at the AT&T Center.
After wins against Atlanta and Memphis, the Western Conference fifth-ranked Spurs were set to end their six-game home stand on a short winning streak, but that ended abruptly as the second-ranked Nuggets had their say on the court.
Antonio McDyess, Richard Jefferson, Tim Duncan, George Hill and Roger Mason Jr. started off for San Antonio with first possession. Jefferson made the basket for the Spurs, scoring seven points in the first quarter alone with the first three-point shot of the game. A rousing round of keep-away broke out between Hill and Denver’s Chauncey Billups near the end of the quarter before Duncan and Ginobili stepped in to bolster the Spurs’ offense.
Billups and Martin led the Nuggets in controlling the game for most of the quarter; Denver held the lead three times before San Antonio was able to come out on top, thanks to a three-pointer at the top of the arc from Matt Bonner with 1:50 on the clock. Ginobili made a fast break to score in the last thirty seconds of the quarter, but was fouled by Martin and sent to the line, completing 1-of-2 free throws. The Spurs ended the first quarter with a 2-point lead over the Nuggets, 23-21.
Turnover-plagued Denver gave San Antonio a chance to add to its lead as DeJuan Blair came off the bench, scoring two baskets in the first minute and a half of the second. Newly-recovered Michael Finley made his debut on the court in the first quarter, but made no scoring contribution and returned to the bench after several minutes’ playing time in the second quarter. Blair continued to be a force on the court, defending heavily against Nene before turning around to score for a five-point lead.
San Antonio went into some serious offensive work halfway through the quarter, recovering quickly from missed shots and passing the ball efficiently. After a Denver basket to gain the lead, the Spurs came back as Jefferson scored and Hill turned a fast break basket into a three-point play after being fouled. Duncan added another two points to the board with free throws, while Ginobili made a three-point jumper to give the Spurs an eight point edge - their biggest lead of the game before the half.
The Spurs showed signs of trouble as J.R. Smith went on a scoring spree, leading Denver into a 12-0 run that went unanswered by San Antonio. The Nuggets recovered from their poor showing earlier in the quarter to develop a four-point lead going into halftime, 45-41, over San Antonio. The Spurs shot for 37 percent in the first half, making 3-of-11 three-point field goals and nine second-chance points.
Duncan was able to give the Spurs a little help from free throws, but Denver continued to dominate with as much as a ten-point lead for the first two and half minutes of the third until Hill, McDyess and Jefferson made consecutive baskets. San Antonio managed to overcome the Nuggets’ intense power and eventually became locked in battle for the lead, which changed six times in a two-minute span halfway through the quarter. The Nuggets eventually won out, but the Spurs remained close behind as McDyess, Ginobili and Hill tried to answer each Denver basket yet fell short, 75-68 at the end of the quarter.
Inaccurate shooting caused the fourth quarter to become more difficult than necessary for the Spurs. McDyess, who scored all 13 of his points in the second half, narrowed Denver’s lead to two points with back-to-back baskets with under four minutes to go. San Antonio was unable to regain the lead as Billups and Martin consistently scored for Denver. Duncan made the Spurs’ final basket just before Martin scored six of the Nuggets’ final eight points in the last minute and a half of the game to finalize the win over San Antonio, 103-89.
A glance at the statistics proves Sunday was not the Spurs’ best as Hill led the team in scoring with 17 points, followed by Duncan and McDyess with 16 and 13 points respectively. Duncan had 10 rebounds, while Ginobili and Jefferson each had five. In addition to their 34-of-79 shooting, San Antonio struggled with three-point shots the entire game, finishing with just 3-of-17 completions. The team had 33 rebounds, nine of which were offensive.
With the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo in town, the Spurs begin their annual eight-game road trip against the Sacramento Kings (16-30) on Wednesday night.