DENVER — Jamal Murray was hurting, out of rhythm and wondering if he should keep playing when he left the court at halftime. A quick call to his father gave him the incentive to keep going.
San Antonio probably wished the young guard had stayed in the locker room.
Murray scored 14 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter to help the Denver Nuggets rally from 23 down to beat the Spurs 127-120 on Monday night.
Denver scored 74 points in the second half, a season high, and outscored San Antonio by 21 after halftime. The Nuggets have won three in a row and six of their last seven.
Murray was playing his fourth game after missing 10 with a sprained left ankle, an injury he’s still playing through. It showed in the first 24 minutes, when he scored three points on 1-of-5 shooting.
"I pride myself on playing with pain, playing through stuff. The first half didn’t go my way and I got banged up and I just called my dad at half and recouped," he said. "I’m hurting a lot. I’ve played with so much pain but sometimes I don’t want to play through pain no more. Let me just sit it out."
Paul Millsap, who had 22 off the bench, helped spark the comeback on his 35th birthday. He had 16 points in the second half, including a go-ahead 3-pointer early in the fourth.
"They just outworked us in the first half so we needed to bring some type of energy and I wanted to be that spark plug," Millsap said.
Nikola Jokic had 19 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds while battling foul trouble trying to guard LaMarcus Aldridge. The Spurs forward had 33 points to lead all scorers.
The Spurs, on an extended eight-game road trip, have lost the first five despite leading for most of the way. They scored 40 in the first quarter, led 67-53 at halftime and quickly extended it to 22 points. Aldridge, who scored all of his 17 first-half points in the first 10:31 of the game, added seven more to increase the San Antonio advantage to 86-63 lead.
The Nuggets mounted a furious rally in the final 3:14 to cut the Spurs’ lead to 93-89 after three, and then took their first lead on Millsap’s 3-pointer with 9:01 left.
"Paul was great," Denver coach Michael Malone said. "Every time he shot the ball during that stretch I thought it was going in. Most of the time it did."
The Spurs scored eight in a row to go back in front 107-102 but Murray had 11 points to kick-start another rally and give the Nuggets the lead for good.
"Millsap, Murray, they just took over as far as shooting is concerned," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "They did a great job, and they’re going to keep playing. They’re a great team, so they’re not going to stop and we just couldn’t sustain the scoring."
Spurs: G DeMar Derozan sat out with back spasms. … Derrick White played his college basketball at the University of Colorado at Boulder. … Aldridge’s season high in points is 40.
Nuggets: Forwards Keita Bates-Diop and Jordan McRae, acquired in separate deals last week, made their home debuts. Bates-Diop saw his first action with Denver on Saturday at Phoenix. McRae scored eight points in 17 minutes. … The 67 points allowed in the first half were two shy of the most Denver has given up this season.
The Nuggets ended a five-year playoff drought last spring when they faced the Spurs in the first round. Denver survived in seven games before losing a Game 7 against Portland in the next round.
"Can’t put a dollar sign on it," Malone said of the post-season run. "So valuable. You had seven of our top nine players making their playoff debut. There are a lot of players who go through their playoff experience and never get a seventh game. All of our young guys got two last year."
Popovich watched Torrey Craig help the Nuggets beat his Spurs last spring and then had a chance to coach him on the USA Men’s Select Team last summer. Popovich came away impressed.
"He’s a competitor. He’s aggressive," Popovich said before Monday’s game. "He’s a professional, even at a young age. Those are the first things that hit you about him."
Spurs: At Oklahoma City on Tuesday night.
Nuggets: Host the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night.