DENVER (AP)—Tim Duncan spent most of the first half in foul trouble and most of the second clanging shots off the rim.
It’s a good thing the San Antonio Spurs spent most of the season trying to take some of the pressure off their best player.
Manu Ginobili provided a spark off the bench for the second straight game and Robert Horry hit two big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, helping the Spurs beat the Denver Nuggets 86-78 on Saturday night for a 2-1 series lead.
“I was proud of our guys for hanging with it for 48 minutes,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Robert Horry was big for us and Ginobili was aggressive all night.”
It’s a good thing.
Duncan managed just four points in 5 first-half minutes because of foul trouble, then missed all eight of his shots in the third quarter. He finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds, hitting just five of 19 shots.
“They are good defenders,” Duncan said. “I was getting the shots that I wanted, but I wasn’t able to knock them down. They are doing a great job, but I’m helping them a little bit.”
Horry and Ginobili made up for Duncan’s troubles, helping the Spurs take back home court advantage.
Ginobili came off the bench and had an immediate impact—again.
The Argentinean All-Star picked up the slack after Duncan went out with his second foul in first quarter, scoring 11 points in the final 7 minutes, and added eight more after Duncan picked up his third foul with 8 1/2 minutes left in the second quarter. Ginobili finished with 32 points after getting 17 in 18 minutes in Game 2.
“I saw that the team was not as aggressive as in Game 2 and coming form the bench I tried to change that,” Ginobili said. “When a guy plays that tough it is contagious and the other guys will do the same.”
Horry, known as “Big-Shot Bob” for his knack of hitting clutch 3-pointers, did most of his damage in the fourth quarter.
Denver cut San Antonio’s lead to 67-65 on Andre Miller’s driving layup, then Bruce Bowen answered with a long jumper. Horry stole the inbound pass and stepped back to swish a 3-pointer, then added another from straightaway to deflate the crowd and put San Antonio up 75-65 with 7 minutes left.
He finished with 13 points.
“Down the stretch, the game turned around when Horry hit those two 3s back-to-back,” said Denver’s Carmelo Anthony, who had 19 points before being ejected for a flagrant foul on Ginobili late in the game. “We wasn’t expecting that.”
The Nuggets got a boost from returning home, where they had won 12 straight, and a franchise-record 19,913 thunderstick-clapping fans.
The energy only lasted so long.
Denver’s aggressiveness was offset by poor free throw shooting—17-of-30— and the offense was mostly stagnant, turning into the kind of stand-around isolation game that helped get coach Jeff Bzdelik fired during the season.
Part of the Nuggets’ problem is that San Antonio has turned the series into a halfcourt dogfight.
Instead of running up and down the floor for lobs and dunks, like they did in the regular season and the series’ opener, the Nuggets have been forced to play the Spurs’ grind-it-out style the past two games.
Though the Nuggets finished with 20 points in transition after getting just two in Game 2, they got caught up in San Antonio’s physical approach and the way the officials called the game.
Particularly troublesome to Denver was the hard-charging game of Ginobili, who seems to dish out as much punishment as he gets.
“I’m going to put in on tape and show my son how to play basketball—just put your head down and run into people,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “I guess that’s a new brand of basketball. It’s not very pretty. He just goes in there and throws his arms up in the air and throws his elbows at us. He hits you as much as you hit him.”
Tom Kiefer, lead singer of the rock band Cinderella and a Colorado native, sang the national anthem. … Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey and former Nuggets player Rodney White—now with Golden State—attended the game. … The Nuggets set a team playoff record by holding San Antonio to 11 points in the third quarter.