SAN ANTONIO -- The Spurs and Nuggets played like two heavyweight teams getting ready to do some damage in the playoffs, but it was Manu Ginobili that landed the final jab of the night for the Spurs.
Ginobili, who has a penchant for making clutch shots, hit a 3-pointer with just over a minute left and the Spurs used the rest of their energy surviving a push from the hard-charging Nuggets, winning 100-99 at the AT&T Center Wednesday night.
The game went down to the wire and the Spurs fans couldn't celebrate until Andre Miller's runner in the lane bounced off the rim as the buzzer was sounding. The Nuggets have now lost two straight after a 15-game winning streak.
"(The Nuggets are) a hell of a team, and there's a reason they won all those games in a row," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "We're thrilled to get the win."
With the NBA playoff races coming down to the final few weeks, each game seems to get more important as the teams jockey for position in the talent-laden Western Conference.
The Spurs (54-17) are holding a narrow one-and-a-half game lead over second-place Oklahoma City, which kept pace by beating Washington earlier in the night. The Nuggets (49-24), on the other hand, fell to fourth in the West with their loss and the Los Angeles Clippers moved up to third with their victory over New Orleans.
The game, according to Nuggets coach George Karl, was a quality one despite the loss.
"I'm pretty sure the film will show that this was a good loss, maybe the best loss of the year," he said. "I think we can play better but I thought the heart of the game was pretty first class."
This game was the first of a murder's row-type stretch for the Spurs, who face the Clippers, Heat, Grizzlies and Oklahoma City in their next five games. The Spurs have spent much of the season with the best record in the West, but this stretch likely will determine if they can hold on to their position as the season winds down.
"The schedule that we have is something that should be embraced and considered a great opportunity," Popovich said. "It's like taking a final exam."
JaVale McGee, who led Denver with 21 points off the bench, teamed up with Kosta Koufos (10 points), Wilson Chandler (15 points) and Kenneth Faried (12 points) in crowding the lane, and challenging, changing or swatting a lot of San Antonio's shots.
But the Spurs' own renowned big man shone brightest of all the game's big men. Tim Duncan scored 24 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked five shots. All were the game's highest stats.
Ginobili's 3-pointer with 1:10 left turned out to be the Spurs final points as they took a 100-95 lead.
Danilo Gallinari hit four free throws for the game's final points.
With Duncan missing a jumper with 10.2 seconds left, San Antonio missed an opportunity to push the lead to three. Instead, they had to sweat out Miller's final attempt.
"They had a really good (second) quarter and scored 34 points on us," Duncan said. "But the rest of the way we played well."
Tony Parker, who just missed eight games for the Spurs with an ankle sprain, sprained his right middle finger but was able to play through the injury, and he contributed 18 points.
After the game, Parker said he would not miss any games.
NOTES: The Spurs now lead the all-time series 101-63 over the Nuggets, including 64-19 in San Antonio. The Nuggets have won four of the last nine in San Antonio, though. ... Spurs guard Gary Neal was available after missing four games with calf tightness, but he did not play. ... Julyan Stone was still out for Denver with a right knee injury. ... Denver is third in the NBA in scoring output per game at 105.7, but only managed 86 points in a loss to New Orleans on Monday night. ... The Nuggets records for most points in a half (90) as well as the least (22) have come against the Spurs. ... Karl joked before the game that you could count on the Spurs dropping a few games with their historically poor free throw shooting. And the team, including Duncan, is improved. "It's the whole team. The whole team has gone goofy, man," Karl said.