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Nuggets 99, Spurs 94: March 4, 2012
Matt Bonner guards Denver’s Al Harrington in the first half Spurs vs Nuggets, Sunday, March 4, 2012. (JENNIFER WHITNEY) (special to the Express-News)
Manu Ginobili tries to maintain control of the ball in the first half Spurs vs Nuggets, Sunday, March 4, 2012. (JENNIFER WHITNEY) (special to the Express-News)
Tim Duncan gets the dunk guarded by Denver’s Kenneth Faried in the first half Spurs vs Nuggets, Sunday, March 4, 2012. (JENNIFER WHITNEY) (special to the Express-News)
Richard Jefferson is fouled by Denver’s Timofey Mozgov in the first half Spurs vs Nuggets, Sunday, March 4, 2012. (JENNIFER WHITNEY) (special to the Express-News)
Tiago Splitter manages to maintain control and pass to Duncan after a fall guarded by Denver’s Timofey Mozgov in the first half Spurs vs Nuggets, Sunday, March 4, 2012. (JENNIFER WHITNEY) (special to the Express-News)
Mnu Ginobili shoots guarded by Dnever’s Chris Andersen in the first half Spurs vs Nuggets, Sunday, March 4, 2012. (JENNIFER WHITNEY) (special to the Express-News)
Tim Duncan gets the dunk guarded by Denver’s Chris Andersen in the first half Spurs vs Nuggets, Sunday, March 4, 2012. (JENNIFER WHITNEY) (special to the Express-News)
By Jeff McDonald
Manu Ginobili paced himself through a brief pregame workout Sunday night, testing his left oblique strain one last time before a nationally televised game against Denver.
Satisfied, he finally wandered to the bench area to dribble around with his twin 2-year-old sons, Dante and Nicola.
Until that point, it was the most action Ginobili had seen inside the ATT Center in 2012.
Ginobili made his second return from injury in a 99-94 loss to the Nuggets. He hopes to make this comeback his last.
“Here we go again,” Ginobili said before his first game in the Spurs’ gym since New Year’s Eve. “I haven’t played in this arena since December. I missed it. It’s been too long.”
Ginobili, who had his brief comeback from a broken hand aborted by a strained oblique, hadn’t played anywhere since Feb. 18.
The return of the Spurs’ catalyst, playing in only his 10th game this season, wasn’t enough to lift them to victory.
Ty Lawson had 22 points and danced with a triple-double as the Nuggets rode a big first quarter to a wire-to-wire win.
After falling behind by 16 points in the first half and never leading, the Spurs had a chance to tie in the final 10 seconds, but Gary Neal’s 3-pointer hit the back of the iron.
Three games into a seven-game homestand, the Spurs (25-12) have already notched more defeats (two) than they did during the whole nine-game rodeo trip that preceded the All-Star break.
“We competed well and played together on the road,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, whose team is 1-2 since the break. “We’ve got to try to duplicate that at home.”
Ginobili’s return did put the Spurs at full strength for the first time since the opening tip of a Jan. 2 game in Minnesota, but only technically.
Just as Ginobili came back, Tim Duncan came down with a stomach illness. Duncan played, but had to dig deep for 14 points and nine rebounds, including four dunks.
His slam off a pass from Tony Parker with 29.3 seconds left brought the Spurs within 95-94, but Lawson buried a 19-footer on the other end to push Denver’s edge back to three.
Parker had 25 points and seven assists to lead the Spurs, who have already lost more games at home post-All Star break than before it.
The Nuggets (21-17) won despite playing without regular starters Danilo Gallinari and Nene and key reserve Kosta Koufos. Denver was further depleted in the second half, when center Timofey Mozgov collided with DeJuan Blair and had to leave the game.
The Nuggets won behind Lawson, who added 11 assists and nine rebounds. He was one of five players who scored in double figures for Denver.
Denver is 3-0 since the All-Star break, a run of success coach George Karl traces to a 114-99 loss to the Spurs leading into it.
“We played the right way with a passion and intensity, and it’s carried over,” Karl said.
For the Spurs, the most positive development Sunday involved Ginobili. He thought he could have played in Friday’s win over Charlotte but woke up that morning a little tight in the rib cage region.
“We all got a little worried,” Ginobili said. “I said, ‘No big deal. We’ve waited so long, let’s wait two more days.’?”
The Argentine star was not his sharpest Sunday but did show flashes.
Twenty-eight seconds after checking in in the first quarter, he drilled an open 3-pointer. He added another late in the third to pull the Spurs within two.
All told, Ginobili logged nearly 24 minutes and notched eight points, five assists and four rebounds. He lacked his natural explosion to the basket, twice being blocked at the rim in the first half.
All in all, however, it was a productive night for the 34-year-old. He got on the floor, and got away without hurting anything.
“I think I’m better than when I came back previously,” Ginobili said. “We’ll see.”