NBA-best Spurs beat Anthony-less Nuggets
By PAUL J. WEBER
SAN ANTONIO (AP) Manu Ginobili finished off the Denver Nuggets for the second time in a week.
There was no doubt about it this time.
Ginobili scored 22 points and buried the go-ahead 3-pointer late in the fourth, and the San Antonio Spurs beat Denver - playing without All-Star Carmelo Anthony following the death of his sister - 109-103 on Wednesday night for their 10th victory in a row.
The Nuggets said Anthony will return after Christmas. Their next game is Saturday at Oklahoma City.
The victory for the Spurs came six days after Ginobili assured a victory in Denver by drawing a charge with 0.3 seconds left on Anthony, who had thought he scored the winning shot on a hard drive to the basket.
Gary Neal also had 22 points for the Spurs, who outscored the Nuggets 29-14 in the fourth quarter as Denver made just two field goals in the final 5 1/4 minutes.
"It was a huge fourth quarter," Ginobili said. "I'm still kind of in shock by the way we won it."
The Spurs reached their second double-digit winning streak already this season and improved their NBA-best record to 25-3. It ranks among the 11 best starts to a season in NBA history.
Ty Lawson and J.R. Smith led the Nuggets with 22 points apiece, and Kenyon Martin played 17 minutes in his season debut after missing the first 26 games while recovering from knee surgery.
The Nuggets were slow to adjust to San Antonio's zone defense in the fourth, which coach Gregg Popovich implemented after Denver took an 89-90 lead at the end of the third, mostly thanks to five Denver 3-pointers in the quarter.
Smith, making his first start in three seasons in place of Anthony, was 4 of 5 from beyond the arc in the third quarter alone and scored 16 points in the quarter.
"I feel bad because I couldn't help my team as much as I should against the zone situation," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "I think if we had made some shots early they would have gone away from it. We didn't have a lot of cohesiveness against their zone attack."
Anthony's sister, Michelle Anthony, died of a pre-existing medical condition Tuesday in Baltimore. She had four children.
Anthony traveled with the Nuggets to San Antonio but left early Thursday after receiving word about the death of a family member.
"It brings us down to earth," Karl said before the game. "Basketball isn't the most important thing."
Richard Jefferson scored 16 points and rookie Tiago Splitter had 12 points and nine rebounds in his most meaningful game yet with the Spurs.
Ginobili had also hit the game-winner in Denver, and he had another big shot in this one. He pulled up on a fast break with 2:48 left to knock down his fourth 3-pointer, giving the Spurs the lead for good.
But Neal - a 26-year-old rookie who is quickly becoming another unlikely find for the Spurs - was just as crucial. He scored 10 in the fourth and had his second consecutive 20-point game, after scoring 22 on Monday in a win over Phoenix.
Neal is getting more court time because of a toe injury to backup Spurs guard George Hill, who is expected to miss at least several more games.
"In training camp I felt like a rookie. It felt like the game was going 100 miles per hour, but now it's slowed down," Neal said. "I feel like I belong out there and the game is manageable for me."
Martin had eight points in his return to the Nuggets' lineup, making four of his five shots.
Matt Bonner scored 13 points and Tony Parker had 11 for the Spurs.
The 26-year-old Anthony has recently been hampered by a strained right elbow, sitting out the previous two days of practice. He's also been the subject of trade rumors since he spurned the team's offer of a three-year, $65 million contract extension last summer.
Anthony is averaging 24 points and 8.3 rebounds this season.
NOTES: The Spurs are the eighth team in NBA history to start a season 25-3. The NBA record is 26-2, last done by the Boston Celtics in the 2008-09 season. ... It is just the third time in Spurs history the team has had two winning streaks of 10 games or more in the same season.
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