The Spurs began their biggest test of the season to date with a difficult back-to-back against the two best teams in the Western Conference Saturday night.
They were more efficient offensively than in any game this season in an impressive 121-117 victory over Denver.
Oklahoma City, the team with the best winning percentage in the Western Division, will be upcoming Sunday night.
But before worrying about the Thunder, Gregg Popovich should savor a lot from the Spurs’ victory over the Nuggets.
Here’s how they did it.
Game analysis: The Spurs sprinted past Denver in a game that was reminiscent of the days of the ABA. Both teams shot better than 55 percent and it certainly wasn’t the kind of defense that Popovich likes his team to play. But no matter as the Spurs had enough firepower off the bench to withstand a late charge from the Nuggets’ deep rotation.
Where the game was won: Richard Jefferson provided two critical plays late when Denver had a chance to make things interesting. Trailing by five points with 2:01 remaining, Ty Lawson had a breakaway layup that Jefferson made a late recovery for a blocked shot. T.J. Ford picked up the loose ball and then hit Jefferson with a perfect pass that led to a 3-point dagger that helped ice the victory. After the game, Denver coach George Karl called it a five-point turnaround that effectively settled the game.
Player of the game I: Danny Green came off the bench to provide a career-best 24 points, seven rebounds, two assists, two blocked shots and two steals in 33:27. His recent surge on offense and defense has made him the Spurs’ biggest surprise so far this season.
Player of the game II: Jefferson was particularly effective down the stretch, providing key offensive and defensive plays that helped the team salt away the victory. Jefferson nailed five 3-pointers in his 19-point effort, with 16 points in the second half.
Player of the game III: Angular Denver forward Danilo Gallinari is playing with a lot of confidence, torching the Spurs for 31 points to match his career high. Gallinari scored 12 of the team’s first 14 points in the second half to help them climb back into the game and was the most consistent offensive weapon the Nuggets had.
Most unsung: Let’s split this one between DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter, who melded to produce a pretty productive inside model for the Spurs. In slightly more than 48 minutes, Splitter and Blair combined for 20 points, 15 rebounds (including nine offensive) on 9 of 15 shooting. Those aren’t exactly vintage David Robinson numbers, but they will do for now.
Did you notice: Maybe the after effects of the lockout are stronger than we might think. The Spurs attracted an announced crowd of 17,537. It marked the second straight Saturday night — typically the best night for attendance — where the Spurs failed to attract a capacity crowd to the ATT Center.
Stat of the game: Green erupted for a career-high 24 points off the bench, keying a strong effort as the Spurs’ reserves combined for 53 bench points.
Stat of the game II: Jefferson went 5 for 8 from beyond the 3-point arc. He now has 26 3-pointers for the season to share the league lead with Boston’s Paul Pierce.
Stat of the game III: For the first time since 2007-08, the Spurs have won their first six home games of the season. San Antonio started that season with 13 straight home wins.
Weird stat of the game: Saturday’s game marked only the fourth game in Duncan’s career where he has played at least 19 minutes and grabbed two rebounds or less.
Weird stat of the game II: Denver shot 56.8 percent from the field. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the last time the Nuggets lost when they shot 56.8 percent came on March 14, 2000. In that game, they were defeated at the Los Angeles Clippers, 110-106. In the NBA last season, a team shot that percentage and lost only twice all season.
Quote of the game: ”The ref said he got all ball. I don’t know. He got away with murder,” Lawson, on Jefferson’s controversial late blocked shot that served as a turning point.
How the schedule stacks up: The Spurs were in the first night of a back-to-back before playing Sunday in Oklahoma City. It will be a part of a swing of four games in five nights. Denver was in the middle of a back-to-back-to-back. After that, they will play a more reasonable slate with a game followed by an off day for the next eight days.
Injuries: Manu Ginobili missed his third game after undergoing surgery for a fractured fifth left metacarpal. Denver forward Nene, the team’s leading rebounder, did not play because of a bruised left foot.