It just wasn't meant to be. A bad first half and an off game from Ty Lawson doomed the Denver Nuggets in San Antonio tonight as they lost 108-103 to the Spurs. But it could have been a whole lot worse if it weren't for the superlative efforts put forth by Aaron Brooks and Kenneth Faried.
Truthfully, by the time the fourth quarter began in this game, I was prepared to write a completely different recap. For most of three quarters, the Denver Nuggets had appeared sluggish and sloppy. In the first quarter, the Spurs, and Danny Green in particular came out hot. Green had three straight three-pointers at one point for San Antonio, who shot 4-7 overall from deep in the opening period. Still, Quincy Miller and Timofey Mozgov both played well offensively, and Mozgov even hit his first career three-pointer coming out of a timeout. A late three-pointer from Evan Fournier cut the Spurs lead to six at the end of the quarter, 34-28.
The second quarter is basically where the Denver Nuggets lost the game. After turning it over only twice in the first quarter, the Nuggets had seven in the second. The Spurs offense was a well-oiled machine; they were whipping the ball around and getting all sorts of open looks. The Nuggets' offense more closely resembled a train wreck as they struggled to get anything going. After Green hit a buzzer-beating three at the end of the half, Denver trailed 63-43. The Spurs shot lights out, finishing at 57% and 8-14 from deep in the first half. They also had an unreal 19 assists on their 24 made baskets. Denver only shot 37.5% from the field, but did have 10 assists on their 15 made baskets. Miller led the way for Denver at halftime with 11 points while Green paced the Spurs with 16.
The Spurs started getting sloppy in the third quarter, turning the ball over with regularity and missing easy baskets. Brooks came in and started doing damage, finishing with 11 points in the quarter and keeping the Nuggets in the game. Despite his efforts and the Spurs' penchant for careless play (they had seven turnovers in the quarter), the Nuggets were only able to cut the lead to 17 and trailed 84-67 going into the fourth.
The lead would eventually be 19 before Brooks and Faried went to work. The two players were all over the floor, hustling for rebounds and getting to the rim with ease. Meanwhile, the Spurs started getting frustrated at the perceived lack of calls going their way and kept missing easy shots and turning the ball over. The Nuggets eventually got to within 100-96 thanks to some spectacular shots from Faried, Brooks, and Darrell Arthur. The hole they had dug was just a little too deep, however, and once Randy Foye's layup was blocked by Kawhi Leonard with one minute to go and the Nuggets trailing by six, the game was essentially over. The Spurs sealed the deal from the free throw line and held on to win by five, despite being outscored 36-24 in the fourth quarter.
This was a game that the Nuggets could have easily rolled over in. They were short-handed, on the road, and trailing big against arguably the best team in the league. Their spirited fourth-quarter comeback was another illustration of what this team can do when all cylinders are firing. Denver is going to be a very interesting squad next year, assuming everyone comes back healthy. For now, they'll have to live with another loss. But this one is about as close to a moral victory as you can get.
Game Observations -
- In my preview, I noted the Nuggets would need a huge scoring night from Ty Lawson to have a chance. They ended up getting it from another point guard instead, as Brooks led the Nuggets with 25 points and eight assists. His effort in the third quarter inspired the rest of the team and they almost pulled off the comeback. Lawson didn't score his first basket until 9:45 remained in the game and ended up with seven points and seven assists on 2-8 shooting. He just looked out of sorts all night, as he turned the ball over five times as well. It will always be tough for Denver to win when Lawson plays like he did tonight.
- Brooks has played very well since coming over from Houston. I don't think he's part of the Nuggets' plans going forward, but he's certainly going to make them think about it.
- After leading the team at halftime, Miller didn't see much playing time in the second half and ended up with 11 points for the game. He was looking good offensively, but appeared lost on defense at times and this led to easy open looks for San Antonio. Miller also started settling for jump shots instead of taking it to the rim, where he had been successful in the first quarter.
- Danny Green didn't score in the second half after exiting early with a foot injury and ended up with 16 points and five three-pointers. Tim Duncan led the Spurs with 29 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, and 137 incredulous Duncan-faces. His conniption at the end of the game when Brooks barely grazed his arm going for a rebound was vintage Duncan whining. But he was absolutely pivotal down the stretch as the Spurs leaned on him for almost all of their offense late in the game.
- I think the Spurs took the Nuggets lightly after halftime, and it almost cost them the game. They started turning the ball over at an alarming rate, finishing with 21 for the game. Denver scored 27 points off of those turnovers. Without Green in the game, the Spurs were 0-6 on three-pointers in the second half. The crisp ball movement wasn't there and it seemed like all they were trying to do on offense was flop and get fouls called. The refs weren't biting and San Antonio and their fans started getting very restless. The flopping and lobbying to the officials helped me remember why I used to dislike the Spurs so much. Oh, and Duncan's two-handed shove in the back of Brooks near the end of the game to free himself for a layup was one of the worst no-calls I have seen this season.
- Faried was huge in the fourth quarter with 15 points, and he ended the game with 24 points, 10 rebounds and four steals. His much-improved free throw shooting was on display also (8-10 from the line), and the Nuggets as a team shot 20-25 from the charity stripe.
- Tony Parker didn't play particularly well. He finished with 10 points on 4-10 shooting with six assists and five turnovers. However, he had a huge three-point play after Lawson brushed him on a jump shot in the fourth quarter. It was a pretty weak call and Nuggets coach Brian Shaw made sure the officials knew about it, earning a technical foul in the process. That four-point possession for San Antonio pushed their lead back to eight and made the Nuggets comeback that much more difficult.
- Mozgov had a nice double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. His three-pointer in the first quarter was the first of his career. He was 0-12 in his four seasons before finally knocking that one down.