The Denver Nuggets entered Wednesday night’s game against the Spurs looking for redemption in more than one form. They were hoping to bounce back after suffering their worst defeat of the season at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday, and looking for their first win in San Antonio since March of 2012. They came up empty as the Spurs handed them a 111-103 loss—their 12th straight defeat in the AT&T center.

With three starters out, the Nuggets were in need of a strong performance from their two stars, Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic—the latter being the most important player on the floor in this game. The Spurs sold out, smothering Jokic with double teams as soon as he touched the ball and forcing someone else to beat them. It worked. Jokic had no trouble exploiting the strategy and finding open shooters, but most of his teammates were struggling to knock down their shots. Murray went 2-8 in the first twelve minutes and the offense could have really stalled if not for Juancho Hernangomez, who picked up the slack by busting out of a shooting slump and dropping 7 points in the first quarter.

LaMarcus Aldridge took charge on the other end of the floor, scoring four quick points on Jokic and adding another bucket over the outstretched arm of Mason Plumlee in the first three minutes of the game. LMA stayed on brand by punishing the Nuggets with his silky mid-range game all quarter long.

The starters were able to keep things close, but the second unit suffered one of their worst opening series of the season. The Spurs’ bench pushed an early lead all the way up to nine points, a lead they’d carry into the second quarter. The score read34-26 after the first twelve minutes.

The Nuggets flipped the script in the second quarter by ratcheting up the defense and turning stops into easy points on the other end. They stole the ball seven times, three of them coming from Monte Morris, who also scored all 11 of his first half points during those minutes. The backup point guard galvanized his teammates and Denver came roaring back to take the lead. That lead would grow to as large as six when Jokic connected on a three pointer—his first bucket of the game—with just 2:00 minutes remaining in the half. But the Spurs manufactured a late 8-0 run and carried a two-point lead into halftime.

Despite shooting just 37.5 percent from the floor, despite being out rebounded 26-20, and despite getting crushed in the paint (28-12), the Nuggets only trailed 55-53 after the first 24 minutes. Juancho was the leading scorer for Denver with 15 much-needed points, and the Joker added seven assists despite scoring just three points.

The Spurs were carried by their two stars—Aldridge finished the half with 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting and DeMar DeRozan added 14 points of his own on 5-of-10. All told, San Antonio shot 53.5 percent from the floor. Whatever momentum the Nuggets may have built during the end of the second half had evaporated by the start of the third quarter. Denver scored just once in the first three minutes of the half and committed turnovers on four consecutive possessions. They turned it over six times in first six minutes of the third and the Spurs took advantage by converting them into easy buckets. When they weren’t running, they gave the ball to Aldridge, who continued to cook Denver’s starting front-court.

With six minutes left, Juancho took and hit his fifth three pointer of the game, a huge bucket that stopped the bleeding and brought Denver’s offense back to life. Jokic recognized that the Spaniard had the hot hand and fed him from the high post on multiple occasions as Hernangomez darted to the basket off-ball. He scored nine more points and was a key factor in Denver’s late run. The wheels almost fell off multiple times in the third, but the Nuggets were able to hold on and match the Spurs’ 22 points.

San Antonio led by two, 77-75, as the final quarter began. Jamal Murray had been quiet through the first three quarters and had yet to make a three point shot at the start of the fourth. That changed about a minute in when he connected on one from deep and gave the Nuggets back the lead. But the Spurs would connect on consecutive three pointers from Marco Belinelli and Bryn Forbes to push their own lead back to five.

Murray would get another opportunity from deep when Jokic found him wide open on the right wing—but his shot clanked off the rim, and the Spurs converted on a fast break. The Nuggets turned it over on the following possession and San Antonio turned it into two more points. Michael Malone used a timeout with 7:43 remaining. The Nuggets trailed by nine. Denver failed to stop the Spurs’ run coming out of the timeout. San Antonio continued to swarm Jokic—who had virtually zero opportunities to impact the game as a scorer—and his teammates continued to come up cold as he fed the open shooters. That run quickly grew to 14-0 and Malone was forced to use another timeout with 6:22 remaining.

The Spurs busted the game wide-open and pushed their lead to a game-high 18. It looked like the Nuggets were headed for a second straight blowout loss, but the reserves were able to make a late push and cut the lead back down to single digits.The late fury was inspiring, though it wasn’t enough. Despite a career-high 27 points and 17 rebounds from Juancho Hernangomez, the Nuggets dropped their second straight game on the road.

Both teams will travel back to Denver for a Friday night showdown in the Pepsi Center. That game tips off at 7 pm MT.

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