The Spurs put together an impressive win in Denver last night, defeating the Nuggets 108-91 to log their first convincing win over a playoff caliber team this season (yes, we crushed the Jazz, but they were without Williams and Boozer). Although the team played consistently on both ends of the ball for four quarters, the most notable performance came from Tim Duncan, who had 21 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 steal and 5 blocks. In Kenyon Martin's defense, Tim only approached a triple double because Martin let him.
I missed the beginning of the first quarter (I was watching the University of Texas Longhorns secure a hard fought victory over the UCLA Bruins) but according to a few people who caught the start of the game the Nuggets came out on fire. By the time I turned it on (late in the first) the Spurs had a narrow lead that they would never cede.
What was most reassuring about this victory was the balance with which it was produced. Ginobili, Parker and Duncan all scored over 20 points, every player on the team other than Matt Bonner dished at least one of our collective 27 assists, and we shot 50% from the field. On the defensive end we played well, limiting Chauncey Billups to 12 points but more importantly to only 4 assists. We also out rebounded the Nuggets 47 to 33.
Last year the most significant criticism lodged at the Spurs had to do with depth, not chemisty. If anything, our unwavering mental cohesion bailed out our lack of talent at times. But as Tim Varner noted recently, against the Rockets and the Pistons the opposite seemed to be true. If anything, our backcourt is quite impressive. After what Mason and Hill have shown me so far this season, I am just as comfortable with them on the floor as I am with Parker and Ginobili (the frontcourt is a different story). But against the Nuggets everything seemed to be clicking. The passes were crisp, the spacing well-executed, the shots wide-open.
Again, a lot of credit needs to go to Popovich and the coaching staff. At times, when we look out of sync, it can be deeply troubling. Our collectively high basketball IQ is our calling card, and if we are making stupid mistakes, you sometimes get to wondering if we have anything going for us at all. But time and time again, Pop does an excellent job righting the ship and preparing us mentally.
I want to go back to the 47-33 rebounding differential. Recently we have expressed some reservations about the Spurs frontcourt: Oberto seems to have slipped a bit, Thomas seems to have slipped a lot, and Matt Bonner is Matt Bonner. But at first glance it looks like our bigs had a good night. We dominated the glass and held the athletic duo of Kenyon Martin and Nene to 12 points a piece. The credit for the latter of those two accomplishments should go to our entire frontcourt, but I am not so sure about the former.
Over half (24) of our rebounds were hauled down by Finley, Parker, Ginobili, Bowen, Hill, and Mason (Bowen had a particularly impressive night on this front, cleaning the glass 7 times). Now, I am not complaining about how aggressive our guards are on the boards. And make no mistake, these are not gimme rebounds off of long ricochet misses. Our backcourt is getting in position to bang with the big boys. No two ways about it, we have one of if not the best rebounding backcourt in the league. But if our forward/centers (in particular Oberto, who pulled down only 3 boards) can't show a little aggression on the glass, we are going to have a hard time handling the increasingly stacked frontcourts of the Western Conference. In all fairness, we played a lot of small ball against Denver, giving our guards a disproportionate amount of time to haul in those boards. But they got that disproportionate amount of time for a reason.
The Spurs head back to San Antonio Saturday night where they will face 2003 NBA Champion Stephen Jackson, Director of Basketball Experimentation Don Nelson, and the alternately awesome and unwatchable Golden State Warriors.