Spurs hold off Nuggets with 'Melo out
SAN ANTONIO (AP)
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.
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."
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.
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.