DENVER (Ticker) -- A month ago, no one had heard of Junior Harrington. The San Antonio Spurs know who he is now.
Harrington made the go-ahead jumper and a clutch steal in the final 10 seconds, lifting the surprising Denver Nuggets to their third straight win, an 85-81 victory over the Spurs.
The Nuggets held the Spurs without a basket over the final 4 1/2 minutes, erasing a nine-point deficit. Harrington, an undrafted rookie free agent from Division II Wingate University, made a jumper from the left wing for an 81-81 tie with 51 seconds left.
Denver smothered San Antonio superstar Tim Duncan with double-teams and forced the ball into the hands of rookie Emanuel Ginobili, who missed a 3-pointer. After a timeout, Harrington dribbled down the clock before slipping behind a screen and making an 18-footer for an 83-81 lead with 8.5 seconds to go.
"The coach told me if I had the open shot, take it," Harrington said. "I've been working on my jump shot a lot. I've been coming in early to shoot."
"When I came out for the shootaround at 10 (o'clock), he was on the court at 9," Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "He was shooting by himself with the lights off. We were kidding him, saying, 'Junior, did you shoot the lights out?' He started laughing."
The Spurs inbounded to Duncan, but Harrington sneaked in from the blind side and slapped the ball out of Duncan's hands for a steal. James Posey was fouled and made the clinching free throws with 5.6 seconds remaining.
"They ran a play like that five times and I just cut up the lane and waited for Tim Duncan to get the ball," Harrington said.
A 6-4 point guard, Harrington came off the bench to contribute six points, four assists and four rebounds in 19 minutes. He started a game earlier this season but looked very shaky and was moved behind second-year guard Kenny Satterfield. Both have seen increased playing time since Chris Whitney went on the injured list with a sprained ankle.
"It's a long way from Wingate University, it really is," Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "Last year I saw him play Newberry College with 20 people in the stands. Now he's out there doing this. It's a credit to him."
"I'm just thankful to Kiki (Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe) and the organization for giving me a chance to play," Harrington said.
Posey and Juwan Howard scored 23 points each for the Nuggets, who have won their last three games in the final seconds despite being one of the youngest teams in the NBA.
"When you play hard, good things will happen," Harrington said. "We just can't get full of ourselves and work hard and we'll have a winning streak, hopefully."
"You need to be rewarded for your efforts," Bzdelik said. "That has always been my concern with a young basketball team. Your energy will diffuse if you're not rewarded over time."
Duncan had 18 points and 18 rebounds but made just 6-of-20 shots for the Spurs, who have lost two in a row following a four-game winning streak.
"They brought a lot of energy, big-time desire and a lot of passion," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "They were not intimidated a lick. They deserved the victory. They executed better and played harder, and they definitely wanted it more than we did."
Baskets by Chris Andersen and rookie Nene Hilario opened the fourth quarter and cut the deficit to 65-63 with 9 1/2 minutes to play. Duncan made a layup and Ginobili sank a 3-pointer to rebuild the lead to seven points.
A layup by Duncan gave the Spurs a 79-70 lead with 4:37 to go, but San Antonio did not score from the field again. Posey made a 3-pointer before Howard had a jumper and dunk to make it 79-77 with 2:18 remaining.
Hilario, who had 10 points and six rebounds, threw in a hook to tie it with 1:25 left. Duncan sank two free throws 14 seconds later before Harrington made his clutch shots.
"I thought they would go to Posey (down the stretch), but Harrington knocked it down," Popovich said.
Duncan scored 11 points in the first half, helping the Spurs to a 47-41 lead. The Nuggets missed their first nine shots of the third quarter, falling into a 57-42 hole with eight minutes left in the period before mounting a comeback.
Denver is 5-9, including 5-4 against the rugged Western Conference.