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Tony Parker scored 26 on 12-of-21 shooting from the field.
"Moral victories don't mean anything to me at this point,'' Iverson said. "I know that is a good team, but with the guys out there that we had, we had all the opportunity in the world to win the game, and that is a game that we should have won. We just couldn't get it done defensively at the end of the game.''
Iverson, who sank 15-of-25 shots for 33 points, had insisted since his trade from Philadelphia last month that the Nuggets needn't worry about where their points will come from but who will step up and make stops.
"I don't think our offense is going to be the problem,'' Iverson said. "If we stop people, then the sky's the limit for us. I don't think we'll have too many problems if we get stops.''
It was the Spurs who made all the big defensive plays in this one.
"Our defense got it done,'' Duncan said.
"It was all about desire,'' Bruce Bowen added.
The Spurs were coming off a home game against Portland just 24 hours earlier and it showed in several missed layups, many of them by Parker and Manu Ginobili, who was 6-of-15 for 16 points.
"I wasn't concerned about shooting. I was flat. I couldn't find my energy,'' Ginobili said. "So, I was more concerned about defense than my shooting. Shooting can happen. You have to play good defense.''
Iverson's point exactly.
"It wasn't just steals. It was also making them take tough shots. Nothing easy and everything contested,'' Ginobili said.
Although Duncan added 13 rebounds, he was an uncharacteristic 3-of-10 from the line, and San Antonio had trouble putting away the Nuggets, who played one of their best games since losing star Carmelo Anthony to a 15-game suspension last month for fighting.
The Nuggets led 49-48 at halftime, but Duncan's bucket in the opening seconds of the third quarter gave San Antonio the lead for good.
In the final few minutes, they iced the game with key stops and Matt Bonner had two key baskets down the stretch, including a sweet sky hook.
Although the rust showed in his game, Smith scored 12 points and helped spread the court for Iverson.
"He helped us a lot,'' Iverson said. "He gave us an opportunity to win.''
Smith was at the center of the fight between the Nuggets and New York Knicks that spilled into the stands at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 16, which led to 10 ejections and seven suspensions.
Anthony, the NBA's leading scorer, got the harshest punishment, a 15-game suspension.
Smith got a loud ovation when he checked in with 5:35 remanning in the first quarter and an even louder one when he took a pass from Iverson from the top of the circle for an alley-oop dunk for his first points.
"It was nice to play against somebody else,'' Smith said. "I wasn't necessarily rusty, I just wasn't used to running.''
Smith played 32 minutes and although he didn't start, he did finish the game.
"I wasnt as tired as I was earlier this season,'' Smith said. "I have been on the treadmill a lot and played with Melo 1-on-1, fullcourt. So that helped a lot.''
He also liked the standing ovation he got.
"The reception was great,'' Smith said. "The fans were really great. I can't wait until Melo comes back and see what they do for him.''
Anthony comes back Jan. 22, when Denver plays Memphis at the Pepsi Center.
Iverson, however, is looking forward to the preceding Monday, when the Nuggets begin a four-day respite, their longest until the All-Star break in February.
He's been playing with a sore big toe on his right foot and said it's still very painful.
"I wish you wouldn't have said nothing about it,'' Iverson said. "It got a little bit more painful as soon as you said something about it.''
But not as painful as letting one get away.
Notes: The Nuggets are 4-7 during Anthony's suspension and 6-14 overall without him during his career. ... San Antonio held Denver to a season low in points. The Nuggets had 84 against Utah on Saturday.