After matching the NBA’s winningest nine-game road trip in league history, the Spurs were expected to catch a breather when they returned home from the Rodeo Road Trip.
Manu Ginobili and T.J. Ford were coming back from lengthy stints on the injured list. The ATT Center was supposed to be the same formidable homecourt that saw the Spurs win 13 of their first 14 home games before the road trip.
But injury-plagued Denver’s surprising 99-94 victory over the Spurs Sunday night might inject some concern in Spurs Nation after San Antonio has started the second half of the season with two home losses sandwiched around a victory over lowly Charlotte.
For whatever reason, the Spurs never seemed in synch during Sunday’s loss. As they struggled to match Denver’s speed and athleticism, it looked like they had spent all afternoon in preparation for the game sitting around the fajita pit enjoying the sunshine rather than preparing for the late-starting game.
“They brought a lot of injury and we didn’t match it,” Spurs guard Tony Parker said. “We started the game very flat. I do not know why, but it was just one of those games.”
Gregg Popovich was more descriptive when he described how Denver was able to beat his team.
“I thought they did a great job of attacking the rim, being aggressive with the basketball and we responded to it in fits and spurts here and there,” Popovich said. “They were much more consistent with their aggressiveness than we were.”
It was the major reason the Spurs dropped their third home game of the season Sunday night.
The game, simply stated: Despite missing four key players and losing another one during the game, Denver jumped on the Spurs early and dictated the tempo in a game where they never trailed.
Where the game was won: Denver hit four of its first six shots to claim an early 11-2 lead to put San Antonio on its heels from the start of the game. It also didn’t help the Spurs’ cause when DeJuan Blair, who torched the Nuggets for 28 points in the Spurs’ Feb. 23 victory in Denver, sustained a knee injury 17 seconds into the game that hampered him during the rest of the game.
The clincher: After Tim Duncan’s dunk pulled the Spurs within 95-94 with 29.9 seconds left, Ty Lawson drained a 19-footer on the ensuing possession to give the Nuggets a 97-94 lead.
Almost don’t count at the end of games: Gary Neal had a chance to tie the score, but his 3-pointer with 6.9 seconds glanced off. Lawson grabbed the rebound and hit two free throws to ice the victory.
Player of the game I: Lawson was masterful running the point, missing his first career triple-double by only a rebound as he blistered the Spurs for 22 points, nine rebounds, 11 assists and only one turnover.
Player of the game II: Rookie Kenneth Faried dazzled the Spurs with his athleticism all night, providing 11 points, five rebounds and two blocked shots and a presence that made ventured into the paint an adventure for them all night.
Player of the game III: Parker didn’t miss a shot in the second half as he notched a game-high 25 points and a team-high seven assists as the Spurs’ most consistent offensive threat.
Most unsung: The Spurs had a lot of difficulty getting anything going offensively most of the game. Kawhi Leonard was effective getting to the basket picking up 13 points (including 8 of 9 from the foul line) and six rebounds in 22:32, and he was also a pest defensively.
Attendance: Even the late tipoff mandated by ESPN couldn’t keep another sellout crowd of 18,581 at the ATT Center. It was the Spurs 11th sellout in 17 home games this season, including eight of their last 10 games and fourth in a row.
Did you notice I: Despite playing with what were called flu-like symptoms, Duncan was spry when he was playing. His most notable play came when he abused Chris Andersen on a dunk late in the second quarter, smacking him in the fact for good measure en route to the basket. It was a played that prompted an apology from Duncan to Anderson at the next timeout.
Did you notice II: Maybe Popovich was concerned about throwing a still-recovering Ford against Lawson. Ford was the last of the 12 Spurs to enter the game when he checked in with 2:45 left in the third quarter. And as soon as Lawson hit a 3-pointer on one of the first times he was matched against him with 9:00 left in the game, Popovich pulled Ford for the rest of the game.
Stat of the game I: Despite missing three starters and their backup center Denver never trailed and were tied with the Spurs only once in their victory. It marked only the second time this season the Spurs never led in a game, joining their loss at Houston on Dec. 29 in the third game of the season.
Stat of the game II: At one point late in the first half, the Nuggets had a 15-0 edge in transition points and finished the game with a 24-8 advantage. It marked the second-most transition points the Spurs have yielded this season, topped only by the 28 the Nuggets scored on Jan. 7.
Stat of the game III: After winning 12 of their last 13 games before the All-Star break, the Spurs have lost two of three games after it.
Stat of the game IV: A game after notching a season-high 55 rebounds against Charlotte, the Spurs found much tougher sledding against the Nuggets. Denver grabbed 20 of their first 29 rebounds and held a 49-40 edge on the boards.
Stat of the game V: The Spurs limited Denver to 39.1 percent field goal shooting in the third quarter and 36.4 percent in the fourth quarter. It marked the fifth time this season the Spurs have limited opponents below 40 percent in both the third and fourth quarters and first since a Jan. 18 overtime victory at Orlando. That game also was notable as the Spurs’ first road victory after five road losses to start the season.
Stat of the game VI: Denver guard Andre Miller started the game hitting four of his first five shots before missing 12 of his last 13. Miller was 1 of 10 from the field in the fourth quarter.
Weird stat of the night: Parker scored a game-high 25 points, although his first points in the game didn’t come until 7:14 was left in the first half. Parker missed his first four shots and six of his first seven before hitting his final nine field goal attempts of the game.
Weird stat of the night II: At halftime, the Denver starters outrebounded the Spurs starters, 16-3. But in the second half, starters’ rebounds were tied at 13-13.
Weird stat of the game III: Leonard has gone 14 of 15 from the foul line over the last two games (93.3 percent.) During the rest of the season, he was 27 of 41 from the line (65.9 percent).
Weird stat of the night IV: Ginobili’s game was the first time he has played in a game at the ATT Center since Dec. 31 against Utah.
Not a good sign: The Spurs shot 37 percent from 3-point territory by hitting 10 of 27 from beyond the arc. It snapped a streak of eight games where the Spurs have hit at least 40 percent from beyond the arc.
Best plus/minus scores: Tiago Splitter was plus-14, Ginobili was plus-6 and Leonard was plus-5.
Worst plus/minus scores: Duncan was minus-17, Richard Jefferson was minus-11 and Danny Green was minus-10.
Quote of the game: “I told the team after the game that I hate to break the news, but we can play better. I don’t know if we can play harder, but we can play better,” Denver coach George Karl on his team’s gutsy effort in their victory.
How the schedule stacks up: The Spurs’ homestand continues with games Wednesday against New York, Friday against the Los Angeles Clippers and March 12 against Washington. The Nuggets will have three home games coming up beginning Monday against Sacramento, Wednesday against Cleveland, and Friday against New Orleans.
Injuries: The Spurs were at full strength without injuries for the first time since the Jan. 2 game at Minnesota — the game where Ginobili broke his left hand. Denver played without starting forward Danilo Gallinari (left ankle sprain), starting center Nene (left calf strain), backup guard Rudy Fernandez (lower back sprain) and backup center Kosta Koufos (tendinitis). And the Nuggets lost Sunday’s starting center Timofey Mozgov when he resprained his left ankle in the third quarter.