The Denver Nuggets knew they had a tall order tonight facing the defending NBA champions on the road. Unlike prior performances throughout this season, Denver came prepared to fight until the end. With under 2:30 remaining Denver trailed by only three points, but the Danny Green nailed a wide open three to break open the lead and the Nuggets questionable shot selection late sealed their fate as San Antonio pulled away late to defeat Denver, 120-111
San Antonio started the game white-hot making 10 of their first 11 shots. They eventually returned to earth and though the Nuggets struggled all night fighting screens and staying with the kinetic offensive flow, Denver's offense was able to go tit for tat most of the way, building toward what could have been an exciting conclusion. The final minutes of an otherwise tightly contested game felt more like a slow drift toward the inevitable, but it was fun as hell to watch Denver fight against the current for 46 minutes.
The star of the game was Kawhi Leonard. Not only did he lead all scorers with 25 points, but his defensive assignment to guard Ty Lawson in the 3rd quarter and in the final minutes shut down the most effective offensive weapon in the Nuggets arsenal. Leonard took on the role of invisibility cloak making Lawson disappear and the Nugget offense was without direction, especially in the final minutes when J.J. Hickson, Danilo Gallinari, and Kenneth Faried each forced bad shots in a tight ballgame.
Tony Parker finished with 24 points and 7 assists. His game ascended in the final period where his endless array of moves to get to the cup were on display. Parker is arguably the most underrated player of his generation and tonight he reminded us of his greatness.
While the #NUGSDEF was missing, the #NUGSOFF was in full force. Denver shot 52.3%. Not bad for the 28th ranked shooting team in the league. Ty Lawson was feeling it, at least when the Kingslayer wasn't guarding him. Lawson finished with 23 points and 9 assists. Kenneth Faried racked up another double-double going 20 and 10. J.J. Hickson was lightning in a bottle off the bench going 14 and 8. Denver's bench outplayed San Antonio's bench (referred to as the Foreign Legion) but Denver made too many mistakes in a match-up that required near perfection. Some questionable shot selection, 13 turnovers, and a poor 15-23 performance from the free throw line was enough to cost them the upset.
These last three games are a large enough sample size for us to see that under new leadership these players can compete with anyone. Denver is not a better team than San Antonio regardless of who is coaching from the sidelines, but this team is youthful and athletic enough to out-work any one of their opponents. The fire was out in the hearts of these players, but Melvin Hunt has rekindled the flame. At this point, I can tolerate losing. I am relieved that finallyan entertaining brand of basketball has returned to the Mile High City.