DENVER (AP) — The old Nuggets couldn’t beat the San Antonio Spurs. The new-look Nuggets found a way.
Wilson Chandler hit a go-ahead jumper with 29.3 seconds remaining and the Nuggets beat the Spurs for the first time this season, 115-112 on Wednesday night.
Denver improved to 11-4 since pulling off the blockbuster deal on Feb. 22 that sent Carmelo Anthony to New York and reshaped the Nuggets’ roster with a bevy of newcomers and altered roles for holdovers.
“They’re a little more unpredictable,” said the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili, who missed a game-tying 3-point attempt at the buzzer. “They have a bunch of players that can score and they can go to down the stretch.”
The Nuggets snapped a five-game losing streak to the Spurs, including three previous encounters this season, behind inspired play from the reserves. Al Harrington led Denver with 27 points. Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith each added 18 points. Felton and Chandler, who had eight points, were among the players sent to Denver as part of the Anthony deal.
Gary Neal had 25 points for the Spurs, who lead the Western Conference and have already clinched a playoff spot. Ginobili had 20 points and Tony Parker added 19.
The Spurs were playing their first game since losing Tim Duncan indefinitely to a left ankle sprain in Monday night’s night win over Golden State, but Ginobili said the team as a whole picked up the slack. He said a defensive letdown ultimately is what cost the spurs.
“We had a great opportunity. We were up 10-12 for a big part of the game,” Ginobili said. “But they got us on our heels. We stopped being aggressive. We settled for too many jumpers and they made more than us.”
Up by five at the half, the Spurs took a 93-90 lead into the fourth quarter and stretched it to 98-91 on a layup by Matt Bonner. That’s when the Nuggets countered with an 11-0 flurry that put them in front 102-98 for their first lead since the game’s opening moments. Harrington had 3-pointers to start and finish the surge.
“I’ve always felt like I was a rhythm player,” Harrington said. “Sometimes it’s hard for me to get it going in 4 or 5 minutes. I realize the more aggressive and better I play the more I’ll play.”
The Spurs tied it at 112 on a layup by Gary Neal with 1:34 remaining before Wilson hit the decisive jumper from just inside the foul line. After Ginobili missed a jumper, the Spurs fouled Felton, who made one of two free throws with 9.5 seconds left.
Harried by the Nuggets’ Kenyon Martin, Ginobili’s try on a tying 3-pointer ended up being an air ball.
“Six seconds to go, down by three and I had Kenyon Martin all over me. I couldn’t get closer. It’s not like I had a lot of options,” Ginobili said.
Said Martin, the Nuggets’ top defender who was assigned to Ginobili in the late going, “I take every possession personally, especially at the end of the game when the game is on the line and you can make a play. I got a hand up and he took two tough shots.”
San Antonio hit nine of their 13 3-point attempts in the first half, and led by as many as 14 before settling for a 69-64 advantage at the break.
After Neal connected from beyond the arc to put the Spurs up 55-42 with 6:19 left in the second quarter, the Nuggets got close with a 13-2 run. Felton and Danilo Gallinari each hit 3-pointers and Harrington converted a three-point play during the surge.
Notes: Nuggets G Arron Afflalo, sidelined since re-injuring his left hamstring at Miami on Saturday, is expected to return for next Wednesday’s game against Sacramento. … The 69-point total by the Spurs in the first half was three shy of their season high and one shy of the season high by a Denver opponent. Golden State scored 70 in the first half against the Nuggets on Feb. 9. … The Nuggets have won eight straight at home.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)