You could choose to look at this game as a moral victory with the Nuggets heading into San Antonio, playing well, playing hard and holding a lead for a good portion of the second half.
Of course, if you did so, you would be wrong.
That moral victory just put the Nuggets another half a game out of the playoffs.
The Nuggets always get up to play the Spurs and they had good reason to last night coming off of the embarrassing defeat in Utah. I think it is also safe to say the Nuggets match up pretty well with the Spurs. Kenyon and Eduardo do a decent job on Duncan, although I thought both of them were a little less aggressive on defense than they were on Friday night. They are getting better and better at containing Tony Parker. They are learning not to let Manu Ginobili get them off the floor on his shot fakes. And I thought they rotated pretty well on defense for most of the game last night.
The bottom line was as well as the Nuggets played, the Spurs executed down the stretch and Denver did not.
The key sequence of the game was with the score tied at 100 San Antonio had the ball and Parker worked his way in the paint for a good shot, the Spurs grabbed the rebound. Then Bowen got a good shot and the Spurs once again snagged the rebound. Duncan was fouled by Kenyon Martin and made both free throws to put the Spurs up 102-100.
The Nuggets next possession was the Allen Iverson show as AI dribbled and dribbled, finally found his way into the lane and took a very difficult off balance jumper. The Spurs grabbed the rebound and Kurt Thomas made a wide open 16 footer that basically sealed the game.
The Nuggets failed to get a defensive rebound twice on the same possession, they failed to run any form of an offensive set in response to the Spurs taking the lead and then they failed to rotate to Kurt Thomas to challenge the shot that put the game away. After playing such a strong game it came down to a couple of mistakes that eliminated all of the hard work that came before it.
The sad thing was even though the Spurs were the team that played a difficult game the day before, they were the more spry squad in the last couple of minutes of the game.
Denver now faces a relatively easy three game home stand with the Grizzlies, Raptors, most likely playing without Chris Bosh, and Sonics. I expect the Nuggets to win all three, but there has to be some concern about a mental and emotional letdown in at least one of those games after coming off such a difficult five game stretch and just ahead of a difficult five game road trip.
Other Observations From Game 63:
- J.R. Smith played a very impressive game. I remember watching him in summer league with the Hornets (yes, I know it was just summer league, but you can still see what kind of abilities a player has) and he showed that he could be a very complete player setting up his teammates on a regular basis. Last night he displayed many of those talents. He was an absolute terror on offense constantly attacking the basket and making the Spurs tremendous team defense look clueless on more than one occasion. The last few games we have seen a glimpse into what J.R. can become. He has a knack for getting to the rim and sliding around defenders while maintaining his body control. Once he gets near the rim he is a strong finisher due to his size and athleticism. When the Spurs started reacting more quickly to his penetration and attempting to take a charge J.R. would stop on a dime before making contact with the defender and make a nice pass to an open teammate. Now add in his ability to find the net from thirty feet and he can be nearly impossible to guard. He has also continued to work hard on defense and has shown growth over the past couple of weeks in understanding the team defense concepts he struggled with so far in his career.
- If you are a regular reader of this blog, first of all thank you, and second of all you know that I probably have only commented on the officiating once or twice all year long. Well, last night the officiating was pretty bad. The contact that was allowed when the Spurs would double team the Nuggets was shocking. Camby and Melo were both assessed technicals after no calls. If Spurs fans are wondering why no one likes their team, maybe it is because even after getting highly preferential treatment from the referees they still complain after every call. It gets very annoying. Tim Duncan, after getting away with reaching and pushing all night, then is called for his first foul in the fourth quarter and acts like mommy just took his video game system away. Don’t get me wrong. The Nuggets complain way too frequently too and it makes me upset. But to cry and complain after every call when you are getting away with assault and battery is highly annoying.
- Why is Manu cutting his hair short now that he is going bald? He should be growing that stuff out to help cover that thing up. His ever expanding hair hole on the back of his head is probably why he was not voted in as an all star.
- We have talked about this before, but it has been a while. AI almost never passes to the roller when he has a pick set for him. There were several occasions in the second half where the Nugget rolling to the basket was wide open as AI forced his way through both defenders in an attempt to get his shot off. Defenders of AI point to his seven assists a game as proof that he is not selfish. I do not think he is intentionally selfish, but he misses a lot of opportunities for his teammates in looking for his own shot.
- It was discovered that AI has a fracture on the tip of the ring finger on his right hand. He shot 9-22 including 3-6 from beyond the arc and many of those 22 shots were very difficult. It is amazing to me that he can shoot anywhere near as well as that with a combination of the injury and the degree of difficulty of most of his attempts. It helps that the ball is supposed to come off of your index finger and middle finger when you shoot, but a fractured ring finger must be incredibly painful to shoot, catch and dribble with.
- I would be remiss if I did not mention that Melo did very little down the stretch last night. Melo made a pair of free throws with four and a half minutes left and then did not do anything else until grabbing a rebound off of a missed free throw with 14 seconds left. That is a no show in crunch time of one of the most important games of the season. In fact, that should probably be the primary story of this game, but I am not rewriting this thing now.
Once again if you have not done so already, check out Pounding the Rock for some Spurs centric blogging.