Mar 4, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) gets fouled while shooting against Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried (35) during the first half at the AT

Recapping with the Denver Nuggets: Spurs can't match the intensity

After the Denver Nuggets began the game on a blistering 15-6 run, it was apparent that the Spurs weren’t quite ready to match their intensity.

A couple of timely three-pointers from Matt Bonner and Manu Ginobili helped alleviate the deficit in the first quarter. Then, in a play that we’ll remember for awhile, Tim Duncan soared for an impressive dunk albeit one with the benefit of a no-call.

Still, that moment was awesome. As a Spurs fan, it’s hard to witness anything better than a vintage dunk from Timmy. As his knees slowly age and his ability to play basketball at a high level wane, I’m becoming increasingly nostalgic after any impressive display of athleticism or intellect.

After Timmy’s dunk, the Spurs managed to (somewhat) ramp their intensity and finished the first quarter with 17 points and an awful .286 field goal percentage. At that point, only four Spurs had recorded a bucket. It definitely couldn’t be a good sign.

The second quarter played out the same way. The obligatory Nuggets run at the beginning of the quarter, Pop yelled at everyone passionately and the Spurs responded. Denver, who out hustled the Spurs consistently, held the advantage in rebounding (25-19), transition offense (15-3) and converted 11 of 12 free throws (.917 FT%)

Tony Parker — who was held scoreless in the first quarter — had a strong finish to the half. He accounted for 12 points on 5-11 shooting (.455 FG%) and three assists. Kawhi Leonard also looked extremely comfortable on the offensive side of the ball; he scored nine points on 2-3 shooting (.667 FG%) while getting to the line often.

More importantly, the Spurs efficiency was improving throughout the game. The Spurs assisted on 10 of their 15 shots in the half. Unselfish basketball is good. It was just a shame that they couldn’t prevent extra possessions for Denver. Usually, the Spurs do well in that regard but last night was a different story.

An important part of the game came during the fourth quarter. It was one of those areas that can swing the balance of a basketball game.

At around the 9:30 mark, Tim Duncan helped on Ty Lawson’s foray to the basket and came up with the block shot. The next possession for the Spurs resulted in a really good look (couldn’t ask for any better) for Leonard. Leonard’s shot is definitely a work in progress — it doesn’t have the nice arc that Gary Neal’s shot has — but you expect a guy that’s shooting .333 from behind the arc to knock that shot down. Nope. Shortly after, Lawson found himself open after a pick-and-roll and drained the open three. That was a decisive five point swing and one that the Spurs easily could’ve had their way.

The extra possessions proved to be costly. While the Spurs shot better and played unselfish basketball, they weren’t able to overcome the Nuggets rebounding advantage. Chris Andersen and Kenneth Faried were instrumental in their victory over the Spurs.

Player(s) of the game:

Mar 4, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) gets fouled while shooting against Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried (35) during the first half at the AT

Despite the loss, there were a lot of worthy players. Parker was the leading scorer of the entire game. Timmy scored 14 points on 7-13 shooting (.538 FG%), recorded nine rebounds and swatted two shots. Bonner was 3-6 from behind the arc.

But, the player that caught my attention was Leonard. His box score was a statistical fan’s wet dream. He scored 13 points on 2-5 shooting, got to the line nine times and converted eight of them. Leonard’s plus-five was good enough for third on the team. He scored 2.6 points per shot and that kind of efficiency is unheard of in the NBA. It was nice to see Kawhi crash the boards, play his usual excellent defense while also being aggressive when given the opportunity. Offensively, we aren’t asking for anything more than the occasional spot up three. Someone to fill in the gaps and make the defense pay if he’s left open. The Spurs already have capable scorers so that specific skill isn’t necessary. Leonard’s defense, alone, warrants him 20 minutes a night. Anything else is gravy.

Something to consider:

Dec. 10, 2010; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers guard TJ Ford (5) tries to maintain control of the ball as Charlotte Bobcats shooting guard Stephen Jackson (1) defends at Conseco Fieldhouse. Indiana defeated Charlotte 100-92. Mandatory credit: Michael Hickey-US PRESSWIRE

T.J. Ford only played six minutes the entire game. Whether that was because of a setback or Andre Miller’s mere presence on the bench remains to be seen. I’m keeping close tabs on his minutes going further because I’m afraid that Pop will run Parker ragged before the playoffs begin. We don’t want that to happen. Right now, Tony is logging 34.3 minutes per game (69% of minutes at point). Without Ford in the lineup, that rises to 36.5 MPG. With Ford in the lineup — excluding the Milwaukee game — Tony gets 29.9 MPG. I included some games where Ford was technically active but wasn’t a realistic bet at playing more than 10 minutes so 29.9 represents the maximum amount of minutes Tony (usually) plays with Ford on the bench. To put it simply, Ford’s absence causes Parker’s minutes to fluctuate wildly. At the very minimum, Ford’s availability decreases Tony’s workload by at least 22%. That, my friends, is a pretty important backup point guard.

Get well soon TJ.

And would it behoove you to stay healthy this time?

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Tags: Andre Miller Chris Andersen Denver Nuggets Gary Neal Kawhi Leonard Kenneth Faried Manu Ginobili Matt Bonner San Antonio Spurs Tim Duncan TJ Ford Tony Parker Ty Lawson

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