DENVER — Kawhi Leonard’s right hand was sore enough that he didn’t know if he would play Sunday night.
The Denver Nuggets wish the forward would have sat out for another night.
Leonard scored 18 points, blocked six shots to go with five steals, and the San Antonio Spurs beat the Nuggets 99-91 on Sunday night.
“He did a good job at both ends of the floor,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “He scored for us and defensively he got his hands on a lot of balls.”
Leonard sat out the previous two games with a bruised right hand and was cleared to play after a pregame workout.
He overcame the injury with career highs in blocks and steals while also grabbing eight rebounds and handing out four assists. He finished one assist shy of the rarely attained five-by-five stat line.
“I’m just out there playing basketball, trying to make a play,” he said. “I know it’s a career high for me on blocks. I was just trying to do it all tonight.”
Forward Tim Duncan had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Spurs, who held off a late Denver rally for the win.
San Antonio (17-7) lost two of its last three, including a home loss to the Lakers in overtime on Friday. The Spurs looked every bit the defending champions against Denver with a season-high 11 blocks and forcing the Nuggets into a season-high 21 turnovers.
Leonard was a major disruptive force and even had more blocks than Duncan.
“He was great all around, although I do believe they gave him some of my blocks,” Duncan said jokingly. “But he was great on defense, stole the ball a bunch, strong plays inside, he was all over the place.”
Leonard was wearing a big wrap on his hand at his locker, in part because he aggravated the injury when he fell on it during the game.
“It was painful then,” he said. “Fell right on it again and tried to hop back up and not think about it.”
Guard Ty Lawson committed four turnovers in one of his poorest games in a while. He had six points and 10 assists despite suffering a laceration over his left eye when he collided with Spurs guard Manu Ginobili in the second quarter.
Guard Arron Afflalo led Denver with a season-high 31 points but had a game-high six turnovers. Center Timofey Mozgov had 11 points and 13 rebounds for the Nuggets, who have lost six of seven.
“They got opportunities on the break, they scored and our 21 turnovers for 30 points is just not going to get it done,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. “That’s the difference in the game.”
Still, Denver (10-14) was in it late thanks to its defense. San Antonio led 76-66 but missed five straight shots as Denver crept closer. Nate Robinson’s layup midway through the fourth made it 77-72.
The Spurs’ lead hovered around five for the next four minutes before Ginobili hit a 3-pointer and guard Corey Joseph, starting for the injured starter Tony Parker, hit a fastbreak layup to push the lead to 94-84.
“It’s hard to get out of that hole down 10 points (at the start of the fourth) and you use all your energy to get back in the game,” Nuggets forward J.J. Hickson said. “Then once you’re back in the game, your energy kind of dies.”
The Spurs took the lead for good in the second quarter when they held the Nuggets to 12 points on 5-for-18 shooting. Denver missed seven straight shots and went 4:23 without a point while San Antonio turned a one-point deficit into a 41-29 lead.
The Spurs led 45-34 at halftime.
The Spurs stretched the lead to 17 early in the third quarter before Denver made a run late in the period. A three-point play by Mozgov, a bucket by Afflalo and a 3-pointer from forward Darrell Arthur cut the Nuggets’ deficit to 67-59.
NOTES: The Spurs were without PG Tony Parker due to a mild left hamstring injury. Parker missed three games because of the same injury before returning in Friday’s loss against the Los Angeles Lakers. … Nuggets F Kenneth Faried missed Sunday’s game because of an ankle injury suffered in Saturday’s loss at Houston. … Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon was an All-America player at Colorado State. … Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said C JaVale McGee could miss “significant time” because of soreness around his surgically repaired left tibia. Shaw said the bone is fine but there is some weakness with the muscle surrounding the area. McGee has missed 10 of the last 11 games.
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