Nets end historic woes in San Antonio
Beat short-handed Spurs on road for first time since 2003
The last time the Nets won a game in San Antonio, George W. Bush was president, the United States was fully engaged in its second war in Iraq and the then-New Jersey-based franchise was in the NBA Finals.
But Brooklyn ended that historic drought dating back to June 5, 2003 on Monday night at a fanless AT&T Center, squandering a late lead in regulation before pulling out a 124-113 overtime victory for its ninth win in 10 games.
With superstar Kevin Durant missing an eighth straight game due to a hamstring strain, the Nets (22-13) appeared to be cruising toward their sixth straight road win before the Spurs (17-13) erased a 10-point deficit in the final two minutes of regulation.
Deadlocked at 108-108, Brooklyn found its groove again in the extra session as Kyrie Irving, James Harden and the fast-emerging Bruce Brown combined to put up the first eight points of overtime, putting the Nets in front to stay.
Harden put up his seventh triple-double in 22 games since arriving here in January, scoring 30 points, handing out 15 assists and ripping down 14 rebounds without committing a single turnover.
“He’s a brilliant basketball player,” Nets rookie head coach Steve Nash said of his MVP candidate. “He makes others better. He can get to the line. He can finish in the paint and he’s always a threat from 3. He literally can do almost everything there is to do out there. He’s been a great leader for us.”
Irving finished with 27 points, seven assists and six boards and Brown, who has been filling it up in Durant’s absence, added 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting for Brooklyn, which will play its final game before the annual All-Star break Wednesday in Houston against Harden’s former teammates.
“Honestly, I just try to find ways to impact the game and not just scoring the basketball,” Harden said modestly. “We have a number of guys that can put the ball in the basket. Just being a distributor of getting guys shots, getting guys easy buckets.
“I feel like it’s my job,” he added. “Just playing the game right way, not forcing anything, trying to make the right play, trying to get guys shots. That’s kind of my mindset every single game and it’s been working.”
Virtually everything has been working for Brooklyn of late.
The Nets’ lone loss over the past three weeks was Saturday’s 115-98 drubbing in Dallas.
But Harden, Irving, Brown and an eye-opening 17-point, three-block effort from second-year center Nic Claxton were just enough to send the short-handed Spurs to their second loss in three games since they had four games postponed in observance of COVID-19 protocols.
“It was a great response,” Nash said. “You miss a couple bunnies and they make a shot at the buzzer, you can fold. You can think it’s not our night. You could drop your head a little bit. You could come out and lack confidence, but we came out with confidence, made big shots, defended, rebounded, and took care of business in overtime, so great response from our guys after a disappointing last minute or so.”
Even after letting a team that is missing five regulars, including Rudy Gay and Keldon Johnson, catch them before the regulation buzzer.
“We felt like we gave up that lead too easily down the stretch,” Irving admitted after the Nets remained within one-half game of Philadelphia for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
“Just a few miscues, a few miscommunications,” Irving added. “Just things that we want to clean up. We’ve just got to take this one on the chin. I don’t want to call it laziness, but just our focus level wasn’t matching the intensity in terms of where San Antonio was trying to get back in the game.”
The Nets’ last win in San Antonio was during the ’03 Finals, when Jason Kidd and company won Game 2, 87-85.
The franchise had lost 17 in a row on the road to the Spurs before finding a way to get it done Monday.
“Sometimes, nights like this take overtime and I think it’s been what, 19, 20 years since we got a win here?,” Irving pondered.
“So another historical record out the window for our team, which I’m grateful to be a part of. It’s a great team accolade coming to San Antonio and just getting a win.”
Whether it’s a sign that the Nets are headed back to the NBA Finals or not isn’t the least bit clear.
But what is becoming more and more obvious is that this Brooklyn squad will at least be in the hunt for an NBA title come playoff time.
NOTHING BUT NET: Brooklyn fans will have to wait until March 11 vs. Boston, the Nets’ first game following the All-Star break, to get a chance to see Harden, Irving and maybe even Durant in person together at Barclays Center. Though the former two-time Finals MVP has been out since logging 33 minutes at Golden State on Feb. 13, the Nets are constantly re-evaluating his situation. “After a routine follow-up MRI on his left hamstring, it was determined that Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant will require an additional recovery period that will result in him remaining out through the NBA All-Star break,” the team revealed last Friday. “The latest images provided a clearer picture of the hamstring and while we are confident that Durant will return at full strength, this extra recovery time will allow him to perform at the level at which he has been playing this season once he returns. Durant will continue to undergo rehabilitation and will be re-assessed following the break.”
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