By Jeff McDonald
Denver point guard Ty Lawson, 5-foot-11 with a head of steam, was loose in the open floor, the one place no opposing team wants to see him loose, and T.J. Ford knew what was coming.
“I thought it was going to be a dunk,” the Spurs’ backup point guard said Saturday.
Ford did not count on Richard Jefferson strapping on a Superman cape, likely lifted from Manu Ginobili’s locker, and stepping back in time. Nor did he count on the power of positive frustration.
Jefferson beat Lawson, one of the NBA’s fastest guards, in a 90-foot dash to one end of the ATT Center for a run-down block, then followed with a 3-point dagger at the other. That five-point swing squelched a last-gasp charge from the feisty Nuggets, keying a 121-117 victory for the Spurs.
Instead of Denver cutting what had been a 20-point deficit to three with less than two minutes to play, Jefferson’s superhero routine provided the Spurs an eight-point advantage and just enough juice to pull out their third consecutive victory without Ginobili, the injured All-Star guard.
Jefferson said the play was borne of pure annoyance. He was tired of watching Denver put on a layup parade.
“They had been running it down our throats all game long,” said Jefferson, who finished with 19 points and, continuing his torrid shooting, made 5 of 8 on 3-pointers. “The coaches had been talking about it for two days. I’m glad I was able to catch him.”
With Ginobili out, the Spurs (6-2) have been in nightly search of a hero to help them hold the fort. Jefferson had the game’s signature moment, but he was Robin to the Batman played by Danny Green, a 24-year-old journeyman guard.
Green, a 5.3-point-per-game scorer whose previous career best was 13, pumped in 24 points, lifting the Spurs at moments when it appeared nobody else could. He made 9 of his 13 tries, none bigger than back-to-back drives midway in the third quarter with Denver closing.
Green attributed his outburst to “luck, opportunity, a lot of things.”
Surely, the Nuggets (6-3) would agree. The book on Green in Denver’s pregame scouting report was like something out of Reader’s Digest.
“We didn’t know about Danny Green at all,” forward Corey Brewer said.
Green’s stealth was understandable. He didn’t log meaningful minutes until two games earlier, when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich stumbled upon him as a defensive answer to high-scoring Golden State guard Monta Ellis.
Nobody — on either bench — really expected Green to produce a stat line like Saturday’s, which also included seven rebounds and a key fourth-quarter charge drawn against Arron Afflalo.
“He did a little more than I thought he would do,” Nuggets coach George Karl said.
This is how Popovich knew his team would have to win after Ginobili broke his hand in Minnesota on Jan. 2 — everybody stepping up, with unexpected production from unexpected sources.
How’s this for stepping up? The Spurs have not trailed for a single second in any of the past eight quarters, beating Dallas and Denver wire-to-wire.
Green’s explosion helped offset another career-night — 31 points from Denver forward Danilo Gallinari, including 16 in a torrid third quarter that kept the Nuggets from capsizing.
Tony Parker scored nine of his 19 points in the fourth quarter to help steer the Spurs toward a 6-0 start at home.
Still the Nuggets had hope when Lawson broke free in the final two minutes, nothing between himself and a dunk but a few dozen feet of hardwood.
Lawson and his coach would dispute what happened next, when Jefferson tracked down the track-star point guard and slapped his shot away.
“He got away with murder,” Lawson said.
Crime or not, whistle or no, a dunk at one end became a 3-pointer at the other and for the Spurs, frustration gave way to victory.