San Antonio Spurs 109, Denver Nuggets 103: Coach Pop thought the defense was terrible, so he went zone for the win
AT&T CENTER — When you hate something enough, change it up. That was what Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich thought on Wednesday night at the AT&T Center. Coach Pop couldn’t stand the defense being played by his Spurs, so in the third quarter he switched it up and put San Antonio in a zone.
The result was a fourth quarter that saw the Spurs outscore the Nuggets 29-14 en route to a 109-103 win.
“Our defense was awful on an individual basis and we weren’t getting anywhere,” Coach Pop said after the game. “So I was tired of begging, then we went to zone.”
Nuggets guards Chauncey Billups and Ty Lawson seemingly got to the basket at will against the Spurs in the first half. Billups had 20 points and Lawson 22, both big contributors to the Nuggets 46 points in the paint for the game.
In the second half, the Spurs switched up their defenses on the Nuggets, appearing to go zone after made baskets and man-to-man following misses. This cut off driving lanes for the Nuggets guards, but still allowed several open 3-pointers. Luckily enough, Denver shot just 8-25 (32%) from behind the arc.
“I’ve had a lot of battles against [the Spurs] and have never really known them to play zone,” Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups said. “Pop is a great coach and he knew that man-to-man wasn’t working tonight.
“We were just kind of having our way.”
If the Nuggets would have won, those words would sting a lot more than they actually do.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the performances of Tiago Splitter and Gary Neal. Neal continued his excellent offensive play in the absence of George Hill, who sat out his third straight game with a sprained toe, by scoring 22 points on 7-12 from the field (5-7 from 3). Neal hit several big shots in the second half for San Antonio. Perhaps his biggest shots came with less than two minutes left in the game and the Spurs clinging to a one-point lead.
Neal hit a 3-pointer to give the Spurs a 105-101 lead and, two possessions later, he pulled-up from about 10 feet away from the basket for a jumper in transition, giving the Spurs a 107-101 lead. From there, it was just a matter of running time off the clock and hitting free throws. And playing solid defense, of course, that should go without saying.
“My confidence level is pretty high,” Neal said after the game. “Tomorrow morning when we watch film, I’m pretty sure Coach Pop will burst that bubble.”
Regarding Splitter, the “rookie” big man scored 12 points on 6-7 from the field and came one rebound shy of his first double-double in silver and black, pulling down nine on the night. Splitter also looked much more comfortable on the offensive end than I commented on earlier this week.
“I think everything needs time,” Splitter said postgame. “I’m getting used to the system and my teammates are getting used to me.”
It used to be, when the Big 3 finished a game shooting in the neighborhood of 14-35, like they did against the Nuggets, San Antonio was doomed. Times are a-changing, though. And this Spurs team has some fire power. It’ll be interesting to see what these Spurs look like when they’re at full strength and firing on all cylinders.