SAN ANTONIO (AP)—The Denver Nuggets have been here before, and this time around, they’re not going to get too excited about it.
In 2005 the Nuggets beat the Spurs in Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs on the road before losing the next four to a San Antonio team that went on to win the NBA championship.
“The guys who were here two years ago know we were in the same situation last time,” Denver center Marcus Camby said. “They ran off and won four straight. That’s why no one is really happy. We came out to get Game 1 but we also want to get Game 2.”
If Iverson and Anthony play this well again, the Nuggets have a good shot. Anthony scored 30 points and Iverson added 31, including 29 after a sluggish first quarter.
“Two years ago we probably were just happy to be in the playoffs,” Anthony said. “Now we ain’t just happy to be in the playoffs. We know we’re a good team and when we play good we can play with the best of them.”
And the Nuggets played tough defense, too, which is not usually their forte.
“They stopped us, doing the things we wanted to do and we couldn’t stop their two stars,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “That’s really the bottom line. Their defense outplayed us.”
Nene added 13 points and 12 rebounds and Marcus Camby grabbed 10 boards for sixth-seeded Denver, which entered the playoffs having won 10 of 11. The big guys also made things difficult for Tim Duncan, who scored 14 points and had 10 rebounds for the Spurs.
The Spurs’ Manu Ginobili isn’t putting much stock in the 2005 series, either.
“I still hate it. It’s not that I’m going to get confident because I’ve done it before,” he said. “We are very upset. We really wanted to take this one home and we didn’t.”
Game 2 is Wednesday in San Antonio.
“So now we really got to step up. Now we know we have to go to Denver and take one or two games,” said Ginobili, who then added, not wanting to get ahead of himself: “First of all we have to focus on the next one because it’s going to be a huge one for us.”
Denver traded for Iverson in December, hoping the former MVP would combine with Anthony to form an unstoppable 1-2 punch and make the Nuggets a legitimate title contender. The two averaged 55 points a game, but not until late in the season did Denver start to win consistently.
“It was important to come out and play defense,” Iverson said. “We understand that we can score points, we’ve been saying that all year long. We can score points, that’s not our problem. We’ve got to be able to stop people. When we needed the stops, we got it.”
The Spurs won the season series with Denver, 2-1, but that was hardly a good gauge of how this series would go. The Nuggets were without Anthony in the first matchup and Iverson had just returned from an injury for the second. Their third meeting was the last regular season game and Denver won a meaningless 100-77 rout.
With their stars now aligned, the Nuggets got the road victory they’ll need to pull off the upset and win their first playoff series since 1994—when they beat Seattle in a best-of-five to become the first No. 8 seed to knock out a No. 1.
Nene’s dunk off a pass from the driving Iverson made it 80-77. Anthony’s 3 and a basket by Iverson were followed by another Iverson-to-Nene combination to close an 11-0 Denver run and give the Nuggets a 10-point lead—their biggest of the game—with 3:27 left.
After Denver failed to get the ball over the half court line in time with under a minute to play, Parker hit a layup for the Spurs to bring them within 91-87 with 43.9 left.
Iverson missed his next shot, and Parker’s under the basket pass to Duncan for a dunk made it 91-89 Nuggets with 17.9 to go.
But Anthony and Nene hit two free throws a piece after each was fouled by Duncan to extend the lead to 95-89 with 11.6 seconds left and seal the game for the Nuggets.
The Nuggets had the lead for most of the first half as Duncan, Parker and Ginobili struggled from the field. They combined for 15 points and shot 7-of-33 from the field in the first half, one fewer than Anthony scored for Denver as he went 7-of-9. Iverson missed his first six shots, then hit four straight.
It was Finley who kept the Spurs within striking distance of Denver. He hit two of the Spurs’ first-half 3 pointers.
Anthony’s fast-break dunk off a long pass from Camby with 4.9 seconds on the clock gave Denver a 44-42 lead heading into the third quarter.
Iverson’s 11 points in the third, including a 3 with 2:39 left in the quarter, gave the Nuggets a slight edge going into the fourth.
Denver had 18 turnovers, leading to 27 points for San Antonio. The Spurs’ 15 turnovers cost them only 15 points. … The Spurs went to the line just 10 times and made seven shots, and the Nuggets hit 21 of 25 foul shots (84 percent). … The Nuggets outrebounded the Spurs 28-19 in the first half and 44-35 in the game. … Parker’s fiancee, Eva Longoria, missed her own TV show, “Desperate Housewives,” to attend the game.