SAN ANTONIO (AP)—Now the task gets even tougher for the Denver Nuggets.
After taking Game 1 of their first-round playoff series with San Antonio on Sunday, the Nuggets are preparing to face a Spurs team desperate for a home win on Wednesday night.
“They’re going to come at us like they haven’t won a game all season,” said Nuggets guard Allen Iverson, who combined with Carmelo Anthony to score 61 points in the 95-89 victory. “And we understand that.
“We’ve got to come out extremely hard, we’ve got to play as hard as we did last night but harder.”
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich didn’t mind how his team’s league-leading defense performed. It’s the Spurs’ offense that has him concerned, and the improvement must start with his All-Stars.
“Carmelo and Allen were great, they made shots and their defense was better in stopping us than our defense was in stopping them overall, I guess,” Popovich said. “We didn’t stop their stars and they stopped ours. That’s the bottom line.”
Popovich and the Spurs practiced and watched film Monday.
“We still lost. I tried to change that film as much as I could. Tried to make more shots, tried to make more stops, but we lost,” he said wryly.
“We did a lot of good things defensively. Transition ‘D’ was great, they didn’t hurt us at all in transition, which is a big, big part of their offense,” Popovich said.
But Anthony and Iverson went a combined 21-for-40, outshooting San Antonio’s top-scoring trio.
Tim Duncan went 7-of-17 from the field for 14 points, missing his first eight shots. Tony Parker had 19 points, but it was on 8-of-20 shooting, and Manu Ginobili, who was runner-up for the NBA’s Sixth Man Award, added nine points on 4-of-15 shooting.
Before Sunday’s game, the last time the three of them had played was a week earlier in a loss to Dallas.
“I think for Tim, Manu and Tony it’s a rhythm (issue). They hadn’t played in a long time,” Spurs forward Bruce Bowen said. “But that’s not to make an excuse for what Denver did last night. … At the same time, we have our guys on our team that didn’t play for a while, now they’ll get back into the swing of things.”
If San Antonio can get their shooting game back on track, then they can turn their attention to trying to contain Denver’s All-Star duo.
The Anthony-Iverson tandem is clearly working out for Denver the way it hoped when the Nuggets acquired Iverson from Philadelphia in December. Iverson led the Nuggets with 31 points and Anthony added 30 as each played more than 40 minutes.
The Spurs realize there’s only so much that can be done to stop two of the top scorers in the league.
“You really can’t do too much of anything but try to hope you get it (the ball) out of their hands,” said Robert Horry. “We played extremely good defense on them, they just made some great shots.”
Neither Iverson nor Nuggets coach George Karl expect to have it easy on Wednesday.
“We were running to them because we had a play that was working,” Karl said. “I know that play probably is not going to be as effective as it was last night. I know we’re going to have to find something else along the way.”
Karl used just eight players Sunday, and he said he’s going to have to look to the bench more, acknowledging, “I don’t know if we can play 7 1/2 players for 7 games.”
In 2005 Denver won the first game of the first playoff series against San Antonio on the road. San Antonio then won the next four games on its way to the NBA championship.
Popovich dismisses any comparisons to two years ago, even those benefiting his team, and Denver is left hoping history does not repeat itself. The Nuggets haven’t won a playoff series since they were the No. 8 seed and knocked off No. 1 seed Seattle in 1994 in a best-of-five. But they came into the first round this year having won 10 of their last 11.
“We talked about how we’re going to make it a long series, and it’s a lot of psychological play and we’re not going to celebrate,” Karl said. “We’re going to be serious about getting better every day, getting better after every game.”