SAN ANTONIO — Denver Nuggets coach Melvin Hunt compared San Antonio's dominant start to a first-round knockout. However, the Spurs may have also taken a big blow early.
Danny Green scored 21 points, including 6-for-6 shooting on 3-pointers, and the Spurs cruised to a 123-93 victory over the Nuggets on Friday night after losing Tiago Splitter to a right calf injury in the first quarter.
San Antonio (50-26) extended its league record of consecutive 50-win seasons to 16 straight. The Spurs also moved into a tie with the Los Angeles Clippers for fifth in the Western Conference.
"They are like the old Mike Tyson," Hunt said. "They come out of that corner and they start throwing hay makers early. If you can weather that you'll be fine, but if you can't weather it, it's hard."
The Spurs led 45-25 after one quarter for their highest total in any period this season and just five shy of the league record for the opening quarter. San Antonio shot 79 percent from the field in the first quarter, including going 4 for 5 on 3s.
But Splitter's calf injury midway through the opening period could be tough blow for the Spurs, who struggled without the low-post scoring and fluid passing the starting center provides. They were 14-7 when the 6-11 post from Brazil missed over a month earlier in the season due to an injured right calf. Splitter's return to the starting lineup sparked the team's current run of 16 wins in 19 games.
"It would be big to miss him," San Antonio star Tim Duncan said. "But honestly, him healthy is what we want. He's gotten a rhythm right now and he's gotten a confidence. I think that would hurt him a lot more (to miss games) than it would hurt us."
Splitter exited with 5:33 remaining in the first quarter, departing immediately for the locker room with the team's trainer. His status was uncertain, but reporters did see him after the game walking without an apparent limp.
Kawhi Leonard had 20 points, including 15 in the opening quarter, and Aron Baynes added 18 points in 19 minutes for San Antonio, which has won six straight.
Danilo Galinari scored 20 points to lead Denver and Jameer Nelson added 14. The Nuggets trailed by as many as 37 points despite shooting 47 percent from the field for much of the game.
Splitter was key to the team's early run with seven points and two rebounds on 3-for-4 shooting.
The Spurs made nine of their first 10 shots, including two 3-pointers by Green. Their only miss came when Ty Lawson blocked Tony Parker's runner in the lane.
The run included all five San Antonio starters touching the ball in a matter of seconds. The possession started with Tim Duncan to Parker to Splitter, who whipped an underhanded pass in the paint from his waist to Leonard in the left corner and was quickly tossed to Green for an open 3-pointer.
"That was incredible," Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. "I didn't want to play, I wanted to stay there watching and enjoying it. We knew we couldn't improve on what was going on in there. It was fun."
Leonard shot 7 for 9 while scoring 15 points in the first quarter, receiving a huge ovation when he exited with 2 minutes left in the period.
Nuggets: Denver F Darrell Arthur (right soleus strain) missed his fifth straight game after straining his right soleus March 22 against Orlando. ... Nuggets C J.J. Hickson (right knee soreness) was questionable, but he played 23 minutes, collecting four points and six rebounds. ... Denver's last victory in San Antonio was 99-94 on March 4, 2012.
Spurs: San Antonio's Big Three of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have 534 career victories, placing them six behind the all-time record for a trio set by Boston's Hall of Fame triumvirate of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. ... The Spurs' previous high for points in a quarter this season was 41 against Phoenix in the final period Jan. 9. Their previous high in the first quarter was 37 against Detroit on Jan. 6.
Green has 30 games with at least five 3-pointers, breaking a tie he had with Ginobili as a Spur. "He made some tough ones," Ginobili said. "He was feeling it. it's great to see because we need him to shoot like that."
HUNT HAS YOUR BACK
Hunt was assessed a technical foul with 7:53 remaining in the third quarter after walking onto the court screaming "call a foul" after no call was made on Lawson's drive and missed shot.
Hunt yelled "call a foul" numerous times to no avail before walking onto the court and screaming "Hey," to get the officials' attention before making his plea.
It's been nearly 17 years since Hunt lived in San Antonio while serving as an assistant for then-NCAA Division II University of Incarnate Word, but the Nuggets' interim coach is still familiar with the area. He used the local knowledge to spend the team's day off fishing on Thursday.
"So I got sun on my face and my right arm is a little tired from catching all those crappie," Hunt said. "It was a great time for me."
Nuggets: Host the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday.
Spurs: Host Golden State on Sunday.