The injury meant something else for Danny Green: a golden opportunity.
The athletic swingman, who spent much of last season in the NBA Development League, scored a career-high 24 points in a 121-117 win over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night.
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After playing only eight games for the Spurs last season, Green has been the first player off the bench for them in the last two games. He responded on offense against the Nuggets and also added seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
"Luck. Opportunity," Green said of his performance. "I mean a lot of things. My teammates made the game real easy for me tonight. Timmy [Duncan] does what he does. Tony [Parker] does what he does, penetrate and kick. Find me for a lot of open shots. All I do really is knock down the open shot and play defense."
Perhaps the most impressive part is how well Green played in the fourth quarter. With 3.6 seconds left, Green hit two free throws to ice it for the Spurs, who won their sixth straight home game and third in a row overall.
With former Nuggets coach Doug Moe in the building, the game had the feeling of an old ABA matchup, with both teams scoring seemingly at will. San Antonio hit 49 of 89 shots, while Denver shot even better, knocking down 46 of 81 from the floor.
Danilo Gallinari hit a 3-pointer with 7.6 seconds left to pull Denver to 119-116, but Green followed with his two free throws and the Spurs held on.
Richard Jefferson had 19 points, hitting 5 of 8 3-point attempts, for the Spurs. Tony Parker added 19 points and six assists, DeJuan Blair had 10 points and 10 rebounds, and Tim Duncan, Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter each scored 10 points.
Gallinari tied his career high with 31 points for the Nuggets, who had a four-game winning streak snapped. Corey Brewer had 20 points and 10 assists, Al Harrington had 19 points, Arron Afflalo 12, and Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer 11 apiece.
Green's play has left coach Gregg Popovich impressed.
"He's been through a lot," Popovich said. "He's been through a lot of trials and been denied many times over the last several years. He's a great example of sticking with it and not getting down on one's self, continuing to play, improve, listen and, right now, he's playing well and been a significant part of what we've done."
What they've done is even more impressive without Ginobili, who will be out approximately six weeks with a fractured fifth metacarpal.
"Manu's down and everybody's got to step their game up," Green said. "Luckily I've gotten the opportunity to do so. When I got in I just give as much effort defensively, that's my job. Hopefully everything falls into place hopefully offensively, and tonight things did."
The injury to Ginobili might have also led to increased intensity from another member of the Spurs: Popovich. Jefferson said that since Ginobili's injury he's noticed a different coach.
"Pop tried to ease it up to start the season, but he's definitely picked up his intensity and letting everybody know that it's not going to be OK," Jefferson said. "We're going to have to focus. We're going to have to play better, sharper. We have less room for error. Different people are going to have to step up. He's going to be on everyone. And he has."
By the end of the third quarter, the Nuggets were shooting 33 of 53 from the field -- and trailing 94-85. Much of that was due to the Spurs' offensive rebounds, leading to 18 second-chance points.
Nene, Denver's leading rebounder, missed the game with a left heel strain. The veteran from Brazil, who averages 7.3 rebounds, missed two games earlier in the week with the injury and didn't play in the fourth quarter of Friday's win at New Orleans.
With his bigger players struggling, Nuggets coach George Karl went to a smaller lineup to spur the comeback. And, while the end result wasn't what the Nuggets wanted, Gallinari was encouraged by the team's spirit. After trailing by as many as 20 points in the first half, Denver cut it to two in the fourth quarter.
"We have the chance to have a really good team," Gallinari said. "When you can come back from 20 points against the Spurs, it means you are a really good team. We've just got to be more ready, more focused when we come out to start the game."
- Kosta Koufos started in Nene's place and went scoreless in 7 minutes.
- The Spurs' 37 points in the first quarter were a season high in the opening quarter for the team.
- Karl said he's not sure when Nene will play again.