First Quarter: Tiago Splitter back. Kawhi Leonard back. How nice for the San Antonio Spurs. Just like Dwight Howard was back last night. Damnable luck for the Denver Nuggets. Fortunately, Denver got off to a strong start against the champs, who are 3-3 in their last six games. Arron Afflalo hit his first three shots, and Timofey Mozgov was playing hard against Tim Duncan after last night's rough outing against the Houston Rockets. Even so, the Spurs took their first lead of the game just inside the seven-minute mark.
Denver kept the pressure on on both ends of the floor, and took the lead back and held it for the quarter. There were even solid contributions from rookies Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic in the frame. End of Q1, Nuggets lead the Spurs 22-20.
Second Quarter: San Antonio ties it up quickly in Q2with Kawhi Leonard's first points of the game. Denver started the quarter with the reappearance of Nate Robinson (who actually came in with a few seconds left in the first quarter), and a defense-oriented squad of Gary Harris, Alonzo Gee, Jusuf Nurkic, and Darrell Arthur alongside NateRob.
The game stayed tight for the next six minutes, primarily because the Nuggets kept committing dumb fouls against the Spurs. San Antonio was into the bonus before the six minute mark in each of the first two quarters. Those fouls may come back to haunt the Nuggets by the end of the game, and Altitude quickly put up a graphic showing that Denver leads the league in the ignominious categories of first quarter and first half fouls. Once the Spurs starters started trickling back into the game (around that six minute mark), San Antonio started putting pressure on Denver, and going up by four. Brian Shaw called a quick timeout to right the ship. Denver's defense stayed solid, but their shooting had gone ice cold at that point. Slowly, the Spurs stretched their lead, going on an 11-0 run as Denver missed shot after shot.
With three minutes left in the quarter, Denver added insult to injury, as they'd only scored another seven points, and a bad turnover out of a timeout also resulted in a rough collision between Ty Lawson and Manu Ginobli. Manu went to the line, and Lawson went to the locker room with a nasty cut above his eye.
Wilson Chandler came back into the game, and scored a few, stole a pass, and was a general pest to Tim Duncan, further cementing his valuable play this season. Unfortunately, no one else could score, and the Nuggets put up 12 total points in the frame. End of the half, Denver is down 45-34 with Ty getting stitched up. Things looking a little grim, at this point.
Third Quarter: One of my favorite moments of the season to kick off the third quarter, in Timofey Mozgov taking a semi-contested three, being sure he missed it and charging the rim, only to get his close up view of the shot as it swished through the net. Beyond that, the patterns continued, and the Spurs kept slowly extending their lead, starting the first four and a half minutes on a 10-4 run. At least Afflalo got his groove back in the quarter, and Denver cut the lead back to a dozen by the six-minute mark. Unfortunately, AAA is also the only Nugget in double digit scoring halfway through the third quarter.
With two and a half minutes left in the quarter, Denver strung together a couple of stops and scores, and Darrell Arthur's three pointer cut the lead to 10. Two more steals got Denver back into single digit range. A quick score by the Spurs, and a best actor Oscar for Ginobli later, and the Nuggets closed the gap to 71-61 to end the quarter.
Fourth Quarter: Denver and the Spurs traded errors for the first couple minutes of the quarter, and suddenly the Nuggets record for lowest-scoring game of the season is at risk (84 against the Atlanta Hawks on December 7th). Ty Lawson is struggling mightily to find his shot in this game, and even turns a bunny layup into a missed dunk a few minutes into the quarter. Denver pulls NateRob back in, and goes small with three guards (Lawson, AAA, and Robinson) alongside Gee and Chandler. Once the Spurs put Duncan back in, Shaw answers with Nurkic, and a little pressure suddenly has Denver down by six.
Unfortunately, foul troubles continue to haunt the Nuggets, and San Antonio is back into the bonus with seven minutes left in the game. The Nuggets tight defense has little room for error, but the Nuggets keep closing the gap. Nate Robinson's layup closes the gap to five points as my wife hurls sailor-level curses at the referees and Spurs alike via the television screen. Thank goodness the guy upstairs moved out recently. San Antonio timeout.
With six minutes left in the quarter, the TV crew announces AAA has 24 points, and I realize that that's fully a third of Denver's total. Rough sledding for the rest of the team. Ty misses another open look, but Nurkic gets tough under the rim, collects a rebound or two, and sinks three of his four free throws on the plays. Nurkic had a couple nice moments against Duncan tonight, very fun to see. Another Ginobli flop gives the Spurs some distance, but the Nuggets close it yet again to five points after a putback by Gee with 2:30 minutes left in the game. It's now or never for the Nuggets against the champs.
Things got sloppy from there for the good guys, and Denver let the lead get back to 10 with only a minute left in the game. Though Denver gave a mostly-solid effort tonight, you need more than that against San Antonio, and the Nuggets fall 99-91. As was problematic last year (in a long article I wrote far too many words on), another "meltdown" quarter dooms the Nuggets to another loss.
What were the high spots, Nuggets Nation? And the low? We play Houston again on Wednesday night, and need to find some answers.