DENVER (AP)—The shots were falling at their end, nothing seemed to be going in on the other, and the lead kept building.
It seemed almost too easy for the Denver Nuggets.
Apparently, it was.
Denver built a big lead in the first half, blew it all in the third quarter, then pulled away down the stretch to end the San Antonio Spurs’ five-game winning streak with a 104-92 victory Wednesday night.
Carmelo Anthony scored 12 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter and the Nuggets had a staggering 31-rebound advantage against one of the league’s best rebounding teams to win for the eighth time in 10 games. Ruben Patterson added 17 points and Marcus Camby had 21 rebounds—six less than San Antonio—for Denver, which moved six games ahead of Utah in the Northwest Division.
“We knew they were going to make a run, we weren’t going to be able to keep a (big) lead on them,” said Anthony, who hit 30 points for the fifth time in six games. “They made a run, they made a big run in the third, but we kept our composure.”
Denver scored from just about everywhere—inside, on the break, behind the arc—throughout the first half, hitting 22 of its 39 shots to take a 55-41 lead against one of the NBA’s best teams.
But everything that worked in the first half fell apart in the third quarter. The Nuggets started taking bad shots and even worse fouls, losing all of their 18-point lead. The margin was just one midway through the fourth quarter before Denver got back on track, using a 12-1 run to go up 98-87 with just over 2 minutes left.
“You can’t ask for much more than we had,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “We gave the lead back, but they earned some of that. Our defense in the third quarter was soft, but it was good the rest of the game.”
The Spurs certainly had their chances in the final quarter, but missed several open shots and were 8-of-13 on free throws. San Antonio, the league’s third-worst free throwing shooting team, was 21-for-34 overall from the line and gave up 16 offensive rebounds.
“Denver competed for 48 minutes,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “After we spotted them 18 points, we decided to compete. That’s just not good enough.”
These teams don’t particularly like each other after a testy, five-game series in the first round of last year’s playoffs. They kept it clean in the first half of this one, but things got a little rougher in the second.
It started midway through the third quarter when Denver’s Kenyon Martin clipped Ginobili on a breakaway and took him to the ground. The coaches and players from San Antonio’s bench jumped from the bench screaming for a technical, but none was called. A few minutes later, Greg Buckner was hit with a technical later for taking a swipe at Ginobili after the whistle had blown.
All that did was get the Spurs mad.
After a somewhat lethargic first half, San Antonio started playing defense a little tighter, going to the basket a little harder. The Spurs followed Martin’s takedown with an 13-2 run to cut Denver’s lead to 63-60, then tied it a 67 when Nazr Mohammed hit two free throws after taking a hard foul to the face from Camby.
Two more technicals were called in the final minute of the third—one on Denver’s Reggie Evans for arguing a call and another by San Antonio’s Robert Horry for knocking Evans down, though replays showed Horry didn’t do anything wrong.
By the time the quarter was finally over, Denver was up 72-71 and so was the intensity, setting up a tight final 12 minutes.
“We made a big effort to come back and it was kind of late,” Ginobili said.
Karl was back on the bench after traveling to Boise, Idaho, where his son, Coby, had surgery for papillary carcinoma Monday night. The younger Karl is expected to make a full recovery. … Chubby Checker sang his hit song “The Twist” and did the famous dance at halftime with the crowd in an attempt to get into the Guinness Book of World Records.