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DENVER (AP) — Kawhi Leonard returned to the San Antonio Spurs' lineup just in time to help make up for the absence of injured Tony Parker.
Leonard, sidelined the previous two games because of a bruised right hand, scored 18 points and spearheaded San Antonio's defensive effort with a career-high six blocks, leading the Spurs past the banged-up Denver Nuggets 99-91 on Sunday night.
"He did a good job at both ends of the floor," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "He scored for us. Defensively, he got his hands on a lot of balls. He created a lot of situations that helped us."
Leonard only got the go-ahead to play after testing his hand during pre-game warmups.
"It didn't feel 100 percent but I felt I could fight through it," said Leonard, who also had five steals and four assists. Early in the game, Leonard said he fell on his still healing right hand but got back up and kept playing by not thinking about it.
"I'm just out there playing, trying to make a play. I was just trying to do it all tonight," Leonard said.
Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili added 15 points apiece for the Spurs, who bounced back from Friday's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Arron Afflalo had a season-high 31 points to lead the Nuggets, who have lost six of their last seven games amid an accumulating toll of injuries.
"Our guys are pressing," Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. "I know they are tired and banged up. We are shorthanded but I don't want to use that as an excuse. We have to find a way to get it done."
J.J. Hickson started in place of injured Kenneth Faried, and Ty Lawson left the game with 3:02 remaining in the second quarter after a collision with Ginobili opened a cut above his left eye. The cut was bandaged and he returned early in the third quarter.
Down by 10 points heading into the fourth quarter, the Nuggets pulled to 79-74 on a baseline jumper by Afflalo with 5:42 remaining.
The teams were trading baskets until Ginobili hit a 3-pointer and Cory Joseph drove in for a reverse layup off a Nuggets turnover as San Antonio went in front 94-84 with 2 minutes to play and Denver couldn't get back within striking distance.
Ahead by four points midway through the second quarter, Joseph's fastbreak started an 8-0 run that carried San Antonio to a 41-29 advantage. The Nuggets pulled to 41-34 on a 3-pointer by Wilson Chandler but the Spurs scored the final four points of the quarter, including a 3-pointer by Joseph to go in front 45-34 at the half.
Spurs: Assistant coach Becky Hammon, a former Colorado State star who has become the first full-time female assistant in NBA history, was back in Colorado for the first time since being hired last summer by coach Gregg Popovich. ... Tony Parker was held out with a mild left hamstring strain, the fourth in the last five games that he's missed.
Nuggets: Center JaVale McGee, who has missed nine games this season with lingering soreness in his surgically repaired lower left leg, is expected to miss substantial additional time, coach Brian Shaw said. McGee missed all but five games last season because of the stress fracture in his left tibia. Also sitting out were Faried (right ankle strain) and Danilo Gallinari (right knee contusion). ... Nate Robinson was back in action after missing four games with a back injury.
Spurs: play at Portland on Monday night.
Nuggets: host the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.
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