Finley scored 11 of his 16 points during a four-minute span of the fourth quarter Tuesday to steady the struggling Spurs and help them to a 102-91 win over Denver in their first game defending the championship they won in June.
“A lot has changed in the last year, but the game of basketball has remained the same,” said Finley, who played the past eight years in Dallas. “I put myself in a position where I’m very happy, very comfortable. I’m just going out there and playing.”
Tony Parker scored 14 of his 26 points in the fourth, making all seven of his shots for San Antonio, which trailed by five early in the quarter. The Spurs missed only three of their 16 attempts in the period.
“There’s a reason the Spurs are the defending champions,” said Scott Brooks, Denver’s acting coach while George Karl sits out a two-game suspension. “They really execute down the stretch. They just don’t make many errors, and if you do, they really punish you.”
Before the game, San Antonio unveiled its third championship banner in the rafters of the SBC Center, and NBA commissioner David Stern was there to shake hands with the players who received their white gold-and-diamond title rings.
Then the Spurs came out flat.
“We were a little antsy to play the game, but at the same time you want to do too many things in the first minutes,” said Manu Ginobili, who finished with 10 points on 2-for-9 shooting.
During the ring ceremony, Finley saw clearly why he wanted to come to San Antonio.
“I was like a kid again when one of your friends on the block has something and you told your mom, ‘I want one of those,”’ he said of the jewelry that has so far eluded him during his career. “It was a little bit emotional for me, so I played like that was what I was playing for.”
San Antonio trailed most of the second half until Finley hit a 19-footer to put the Spurs up 79-78 with about nine minutes remaining in the game. Then hit another jumper, followed by a 3-pointer.
“He’s a professional,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “He’s not going to shy away from a jump shot.”
With about seven minutes left, Finley made his play of the night.
He missed a corner jumper that was rebounded by Tim Duncan, and he cut to the basket for a pass and dunked it with enthusiasm to make it 86-81.
Duncan had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Spurs, who won their 11th straight regular-season home game.
“I though we played well but it really comes down to making plays late in the game,” said Martin. “They did it, we didn’t.”
For most of the game, they were without key reserve Nene, who left in the first quarter with a leg injury.
Duncan, who scored eight straight points midway through the first period, stole the ball from Nene under the Nuggets’ basket and then made a layup at the other end to give San Antonio its first lead at 20-19 after the Spurs lagged by as many as nine.
Nene hobbled off the floor after the play with what the team described as a sprained right anterior cruciate ligament. He did not return.
Down by six after one quarter, Denver took a 30-29 lead on a 3-point play by Najera early in the second. Boykins scored nine of his 11 first-half points in the period on 4-for-5 shooting. The Nuggets took a 48-46 lead at the break on a tip-in by Marcus Camby with 36 seconds left.
Both Denver and San Antonio are now in their 30th season as NBA franchises. They were accepted into the league in June 1976, along with Indiana and New Jersey. … Because of the suspension, Karl will also miss Wednesday night’s home opener against the Los Angeles Lakers. He can return to the bench in Denver for Friday’s contest against Portland. … Denver missed all seven of its 3-pointers, while the Spurs went 4-for-13 behind the arc. … San Antonio is 9-0 on opening night since Duncan has been with the team.