By Chris Le
I think I’ve seen this before, the Denver Nuggets shocking the San Antonio Spurs 95-89 in Game 1 of the opening round. Wait, I have! In 2005, the Nuggets did the exact same thing, stealing home-court advantage from the Spurs, but only to lose the next four. This present situation however, has a much different feel. And that’s bad news for the boys in San Antonio.
Similar to two years ago, the Nuggets had a late-season surge and entered the postseason as the most dangerous team no top-seeded squad wanted to face. However, the makeup of this Denver team is significantly more potent with the addition of Allen Iverson, who dropped 31 points in his usual fearless manner and a seasoned and more poised Carmelo Anthony contributing an efficient 30 points. The high-scoring duo limited the usually stingy Bruce Bowen to 19 relatively ineffective minutes, with more fouls (3) than field goals (2).
Denver’s offensive success wasn’t the main reason why they won though. They took a page from the Spurs’ playbook and manhandled their opponents with hardnosed defense, limiting San Antonio’s big three to shooting a combined 19-for-52. Along with being an absolute killer on the offensive glass (8), Nene Hilario played particularly well defensively, fronting Tim Duncan and forcing the All-Star out of his comfort zones. Despite nearly having a triple-double (14 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists), Timmy had an extremely sub-par outing, failing to finish on numerous shots around the rim. And late in the game, it seemed as if he was reluctant to pull the trigger, looking more to set up his teammates.
If the Spurs are going to get themselves back into this series, Duncan needs to ditch his facilitating mentality and assert himself in the post. He’s got to lower that shoulder and power himself into the paint. Doing so will not only open the game for teammates, but will undoubtedly trouble Nene and Marcus Camby with fouls, which would be vital. The Denver frontcourt devastated the Spurs on the boards (an issue that has plagued San Antonio all season) 44 to 35 and at the free-throw line, 25 attempts to 10.
Overall, the Spurs were out-muscled, out-hustled and most surprisingly, out-played on the defensive end.
But you best believe that Coach Gregg Popovich will have his team ready for Game 2. Even with Nene’s aptitude for being an active deterrent, Duncan won’t have many strings of 0 for 7 shooting anytime soon like at the onset of Game 1. And if the Spurs bench, namely Michael Finley and Robert Horry, continues to play as well as it has, they will be just fine.
Make no mistake though. The Nuggets certainly made an emphatic statement — that they can beat the Spurs. Will this game be a wake-up call as it was in 2005? Déjà vu? Not with a healthy ‘Melo, Nene, Camby and Iverson gellin’ like Dr. Scholl’s it isn’t. This is a Denver team the Spurs have never seen before. And that means we’re in for a series.
Game 2 is Wednesday in San Antonio at 4:00pm PT on TNT.
Image courtesy of Getty Images.