DENVER, April 30 (Ticker) -- Manu Ginobili is demonstrating why the Denver Nuggets pursued him so doggedly in the offseason.

Ginobili scored 32 points and helped pick up the slack for an ineffective Tim Duncan as the San Antonio Spurs posted a sloppy 86-78 victory over the Denver Nuggets and took a 2-1 lead in their Western Conference first-round series.

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The second-seeded Spurs have rebounded from a surprising loss in Game One and again look like the team that is expected to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.

An All-Star who was courted hard by the Nuggets while a free agent last summer, Ginobili has been a huge factor in the last the two games despite being relegated to coming off the bench by coach Gregg Popovich. He scored 12 of his 17 points in the second quarter of Game Two, when the Spurs raced to a big lead and never were threatened.

"I saw the team was not being as aggressive as we were in Game Two, so coming from the bench I tried to change that because I always say when a couple guys are playing that tough it is contagious and they start doing the same," said Ginobili, who made 10-of-21 shots. "That is my job now coming from the bench, to change the mentality of the game."

"Manu carried us tonight," Spurs point guard Tony Parker said. "He is the only one that played well."

In this one, the Spurs watched Duncan - their star forward - pick up two fouls less than four minutes into the game and his third with 8:25 left in the second quarter - sending him to the bench for the remainder of the half.

But Ginobili stepped up in Duncan's absence, scoring 19 points in the first half to help the Spurs to a 50-41 lead.

When things got tight in the fourth quarter, Ginobili drilled a 3-pointer with 2:09 remaining to give the Spurs an 81-74 lead. The Argentine native also was the recipient of a flagrant foul by Carmelo Anthony, who was ejected with 22 seconds left.

Duncan never got going, scoring 11 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. He made just 5-of-19 shots but did hit one of his patented bank shots with 52 seconds remaining for an 83-78 lead.

"I'm getting a lot of the shots I want, I'm just able to knock them down," said Duncan. "They are doing a great job, but I am helping them a little bit."

Robert Horry also hit a pair of clutch 3-pointers in a 10-0 fourth-quarter run for the Spurs, who shot just 38 percent (31-of-81) and made only 18-of-28 free throws.

Led by Ginobili and Horry, the Spurs held a monstrous 53-14 advantage in bench points.

"Robert Horry was big and Ginobili was aggressive all night," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

Anthony scored 19 points and Marcus Camby had 12 and 14 rebounds for Denver, which shot 41 percent (29-of-71) and went 17-of-30 at the free-throw line.

Denver, which fell to 20-2 at home under coach George Karl, hosts Game Four on Monday.

"They played very well without Duncan," Karl said. "Ginobili had a fantastic basketball game. I thought we fought our tails off in the second half. We were just in a hole we couldn't get out of."

In the third quarter, Duncan managed to stay on the floor but was a non-factor. He missed all eight of his shots and the Spurs managed just 11 points in the quarter but still held a 61-58 lead.

A driving layup by Andre Miller with 7:34 remaining pulled the Nuggets within 67-65. But Bruce Bowen made a jumper and Horry, who has a history of coming through in the clutch, drained back-to-back 3-pointers to rebuild the lead to double digits with 5:59 remaining.

"Once I get my feet under me I'm all right and can get in my rhythm," Horry said. "Once I get my rhythm, I have a lot confidence in my shot."

"I think the key is when Horry hit those two threes back-to-back," Anthony said.

The Nuggets did pull within three points twice, the last time at 81-78 with 1:40 left on Anthony's layup off a pass by Miller. But Duncan came through less than a minute later with his biggest shot of the game, a banker from the left side.

Duncan played just five minutes in the first half, managing just four points and rebounds.

Ginobili provided an immediate spark when he came off the bench with 6:58 left in the first quarter and the Spurs trailing, 14-8. He helped quiet the raucous crowd by scoring 11 points in the quarter as the Spurs took a 24-20 lead. San Antonio led the rest of the way.

Consecutive layups by Ginobili and Horry gave the Spurs their biggest lead at 50-37 with 1:55 left in the first half.

Kenyon Martin added 18 points for the Nuggets.

"It was frustrating tonight," Martin said. "They made plays and made big shots."