Nuggets fall to Spurs, suffer 12th straight loss in San Antonio

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) posts up against San Antonio Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) during the first half at AT&T Center.
Dec 26, 2018; San Antonio, TX, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) posts up against San Antonio Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets still have no recipe for how to win in San Antonio after suffering a 111-103 loss to the Spurs.

Denver has now lost 12 straight games in San Antonio and have not won their since March 4, 2012. The loss pushes Denver’s record to 21-11 on the season, which is good for a half game behind the Golden State Warriors for first place in the Western Conference.

With the Nuggets coming into tonight looking to snap a major losing streak in San Antonio, it was important for Denver to get off to a good start. Still without starters Gary Harris, Will Barton, and Paul Millsap, the Nuggets were also looking to get back on track after a tough loss last Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers. After three days off in between games, the Nuggets certainly came into tonight well rested and looking to get back into the win column.

The game began with Denver’s offense flying high, but the Nuggets ran into a constant problem that always pops up when they play the Spurs, LaMarcus Aldridge. The sweet shooting jumper from Aldridge was on full display early in the night as he had six of the Spurs first 10 points. Even with the Nuggets struggling to defend Aldridge, Denver’s offense was still playing well and it was a big reason why the Nuggets held a 14-13 lead with 6:15 left in the first quarter.

Denver’s early lead was in large part to Juancho Hernangomez, who had seven of the Nuggets first 14 points courtesy of some hot shooting from three-point land. Hernangomez opened the game 4-of-4 from distance and really set the tone for Denver’s play on the offensive end of the floor. Even with the 13 first quarter points from Hernangomez, the Nuggets still had to recipe of how to slow down the Spurs offense as San Antonio led 34-26 after the first period. Highlighted by four three-pointer from Marco Belinelli and Davis Bertans, the Spurs closed the quarter on a 19-6 run to give them an eight point lead after the games first 12 minutes.

To open the second quarter, Denver answered with a run of their own to cut the Spurs lead to three with 9:05 left in the half. Denver’s run was sparked by Nikola Jokic, who had two great assists that led to a three-pointer by Monte Morris and an easy dunk for Malik Beasley. Morris’ great play off the bench continued as he poured in 11 second quarter points, while shooting 3-of-4 from three-point range. No three was bigger than the one Morris made at the 4:37 mark of the second quarter as it tied the game back up at 45.

That three helped spark a 13-2 run for the Nuggets, but the Spurs ultimately answered to take a 55-53 lead into the halftime locker room. After being outscored by eight in the first quarter, Denver bounced back winning the second period 27-21 to cut their deficit to two at the break. The Nuggets would end up shooting just 18-of-48 from the field in the first half, but complimented it by going 10-of-20 from three-point range. The Nuggets success from deep was sparked by Hernangomez and Morris, who combined to score 26 first half points on 7-of-8 shooting from distance. Another notable stat line at the break came from Jokic, who chipped in three points, seven assists, four rebounds, and two steals in his 17 first half minutes.

It was a lot of the same to start the third quarter as the Nuggets struggled to score the ball and had just five points in the first six minutes of the quarter. Three of those points came courtesy of an and-one bucket by Mason Plumlee, but the rest of the Nuggets offense continued to struggle. The Nuggets struggles offensively helped the Spurs jump out to a 64-58 lead with 6:44 left in the half. Even with the Nuggets struggles to score the basketball, San Antonio could not pull away as Denver was still within striking distance with a quarter and a half to play.

The Nuggets continued to battle as Hernangomez’s fifth three-pointer of the night helped make it a one possession game, but the Spurs quickly answered to stretch their lead back out to seven with 4:47 left in the third quarter. Hernangomez’s play was the only thing keeping the Nuggets offense afloat, until a Beasley three with 3:30 left in the quarter tied the game up at 68. San Antonio would quickly regain the lead though as the Nuggets still had no way of stopping Aldridge on the defensive end of the floor. At the end of three quarters, Aldridge had 27 points on 13-of-18 shooting from the field and was major reason why the Spurs had the lead going into the fourth.

Led by the play of Aldridge, the Spurs held a 77-75 lead going into the fourth quarter after both teams scored just 22 points in the third. Still, the Nuggets had a chance to steal a major road victory in a building they had not won a game in since 2012. All it was going to take was a big fourth quarter, which the Nuggets have shown they are capable of time and time again this season.

It would not be easy though as San Antonio opened the fourth quarter strong from three-point range to help stretch their lead to five with 9:01 left in the period. That was just the start of what would be a 14-0 run by the Spurs to give them a 94-80 lead with just under seven minutes left in the game. Not only were the Spurs scoring the ball with mass efficiently, but the Nuggets could absolutely not buy a basket. During the Spurs run, Denver did not score a point for over five minutes, which would ultimately seal their fate for the rest of the night.

The Nuggets reserves — led by Brandon Goodwin and Malik Beasley — went on a 16-4 run in the closing minutes of the game, but it was still not enough to overcome the double-digit deficit. Denver certainly made it interesting, but the Spurs were still able to hang on in the end to walk away with a 111-103 victory over the Nuggets.

Stat leaders for the Nuggets were Jokic, who finished with just four points, but did chip in 10 assists and hauled in four rebounds. Other stat leaders for the Nuggets were Hernangomez, who finished with a double-double and a team high in points with 27 on 8-of-13 shooting from the field, while also hauling in 13 rebounds. Morris also finished with a solid stat for Denver finishing with 15 points, four assists, and three steals to go along with his three three-pointers. Beasley also had a good night for the Nuggets finishing with a career-high 22 points to go along with his seven rebounds and three assists.

The Nuggets now have a day off before they finish their home-and-home series with the Spurs Friday night at the Pepsi Center. It will be Denver’s first game of a back-to-back, which will be followed with a Saturday night matchup in Phoenix to face the Suns.

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