In the first half, the Nuggets were absolutely struggling offensively due to missing eleven lay-ups. That in combination with San Antonio switching to a zone defense confused Denver in half court sets and as a result limited the Nuggets to 34% from the field, one shot, and dictated the pace of the game. The Nuggets were also sloppy of the defensive boards allowing the Spurs to grab six offensive rebounds in the first quarter alone before surrendering nine at intermission. And when the buzzer sounded, the Nuggets had only mustered 41 points and found themselves down by eight.
Most coaches will tell you that the first three minutes of the second half are the most pivotal minutes of the game, and the Spurs obviously made note at the break by coming out with fire and extended their lead over the flat-footed Nuggets to eleven at the nine minute mark. Denver was getting out-hustled to every loose ball, was out-rebounded on both ends of the floor, and showed signs of fatigue when the Spurs were beating them down the floor for easy buckets. The Spurs would extend their lead to 14 at the close of the third quarter and the Nuggets were looking out of gas and without a map at the AT&T Center.
At this point in the game my stomach was in knots thinking about how easily the Nuggets could have mailed this game in already thinking about getting this series back to Denver, but they didn’t go out without a spirited fight which resulted in a lot of pride being restored for the Nuggets to take back with them to the Mile High City.
The Spurs held their biggest lead of the night, (17 points), with eight minutes remaining before the Nuggets picked themselves up by their bootstraps and went on a 23-9 point run which brought them back to within three, 91-88. The late comeback was spearheaded by Allen Iverson’s eight points, but as most late comebacks do, fell short down the stretch when the Nuggets hot shooting couldn’t be sustained.
As I mentioned before, the Nuggets all struggled offensively and it started with the dynamic duo. Carmelo Anthony concluded tonight’s game with a double-double of 26 points and ten rebounds after finishing the first half with just ten points and five boards. Allen Iverson started off the game 4-13 from the field, and if it wasn’t for his big fourth quarter, would have played one of his worst playoff games of his career. The Answer finished with 20 points and five assists, but just couldn’t find the cup shooting an icy 9-25 from the field overall.
On the defensive end, the Nuggets were led by Marcus Camby’s 18 rebounds and three first half blocks, but Denver had no stopping power for Tim Duncan’s 22 points, five assists, five blocks and seven rebounds. Nene’s spirited effort of 17 points and seven rebounds helped, but Duncan put his stamp on this game for the Spurs in a very stoic fashion.
Along with being plagued by poor shooting, (Denver finished shooting just 34-88), I must say that the Spurs reserves were the difference in this game. Manu led the charge with 17 points, but the San Antonio bench out-scored the Nuggets trio of back-ups, 30-7.
What is different about this game, and this series, from the situation two years ago is how the Nuggets showed the resiliency and pride of their character in the fourth quarter, whereas the 2005 Nuggets allowed the Spurs to take not only just a win in game two, but also Denver’s sense of confidence. The final eight minutes of this game proved to me that the Nuggets will not only be physically prepared, but more importantly mentally ready, when this series resumes on Saturday night at the Pepsi Center. And after the Nuggets have been in San Antonio for the last extended week, I know the city of Denver is going to be ready to welcome the Nuggets home with a down-right energized atmosphere for both games three and four.
This once seven game series has now become a five -game run to see who can hold onto their momentum with the Nuggets having three home games out of the possible remaining five. I still believe Nuggets Nation, do you?