Duncan took just one shot in the first half, when the Spurs opened a big lead before cruising to their season-high ninth straight victory, a 101-76 rout of the hapless Nuggets.
Named Western Conference Player of the Week earlier in the day, Duncan usually is the player who determines the fortunes of the Spurs. But this time he let his teammates do most of the work, which wasn’t very strenuous.
“Timmy did a great job of sharing the ball,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “He took four shots and still ended up with a double-double. He involved everybody else, TP (Tony Parker) involved everybody else. It was a good night.”
The Nuggets held a 22-21 lead after one quarter but fell apart in the second period. They had as many turnovers as baskets, making just 6-of-19 shots and no free throws.
“I think defensively we are fine, but our offense puts more pressure on our defense,” Denver coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “We give up too many turnovers, which allows teams to score too many points out of us. And we just have too many quarters where we give a 20-point or less effort.”
Duncan had five free throws in the first half and added six points in the third quarter, when San Antonio built its lead to 29 points. He finished with 11 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks.
“He knows, and everybody knows, that he can score whenever he wants,” Ginobili said, referring to Duncan. “They were double-teaming him the first half and he saw the game could be won without him.”
Bowen scored 18 points for San Antonio, which was playing at home for the first time since January 25 and improved to 20-4 at SBC Arena. Since a loss at Denver on November 26, the Spurs have beaten the Nuggets three times by a combined 65 points.
San Antonio’s winning streak is its longest since also winning nine in a row to close last season. The Spurs went 8-1 on their sojourn, closing with wins over the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento to become the first team to win as many as seven games on the same trip.
“I’m happy the team kept their focus,” Popovich said. “I’m sure they felt good about the road trip, but there’s a lot of games to play and things to improve on to be ready down the stretch.”
Juwan Howard scored 21 points for Denver, which completed a winless three-game trip and has lost six in a row. The Nuggets are 3-25 on the road.
“We can learn a lot from a team like this and I think we can build off of the lessons we learned tonight,” said Denver guard Chris Whitney, who was held scoreless on 0-of-6 shooting. “They are a team that is just really jelling and are together.”
The Spurs began the second quarter with a 15-0 run as the Nuggets missed their first seven shots. Bowen began and ended the burst with baskets and Ginobili had a 3-pointer and free throw, helping San Antonio open a 36-22 lead with 7:01 remaining.
Denver got no closer than nine points thereafter. Even without a basket from Duncan, San Antonio rebuilt the lead to 17 points at halftime.
“The 15-0 run that they had just really took the heart out of a young basketball team,” Bzdelik said. “We really played hard, but the run they had and the experience that they showed just really took the heart out of our game.”
Duncan finally joined the party in the third quarter, making a pair of hoops. A layup by Speedy Claxton gave the Spurs their largest lead at 76-47 with 1:52 remaining, and it was garbage time thereafter.
“We wanted to establish control early on, but the first quarter was a little hectic with lots of turnovers,” Duncan said. “They are a young, aggressive team that forces a lot of turnovers. Then in the second quarter, we settled down, took a lead and just took over from there.”
Stephen Jackson scored 14 points and Ginobili, Tony Parker, Kevin Willis and Steve Kerr added eight each for the Spurs, who shot 49 percent (36-of-73), including 10-of-22 from 3-point range. Parker handed out eight assists.