The Nets blew a 14-point third-period lead, found themselves in a tie game early in the fourth quarter and were facing the incomprehensible prospect of losing for the sixth straight time on their home floor. They rebuilt a 12-point lead with 4:59 left and then blew that, too, on their way to overtime.
But in the end, rookie Cam Thomas became the improbable hero when he took a pass from Kevin Durant and hit a difficult floater in the lane with 1.4 seconds left to give the Nets a 121-119 victory Sunday afternoon at Barclays Center.
"It was great, "a relieved Nets coach Steve Nash said of the game-winning play. "They double-teamed Kevin. We talked about it in the timeout: ‘Probably coming from your side, Cam, be ready to go.’ He stepped up and made a big shot."
The Nets had a game-high lead of 14 when the Spurs mounted a 25-14 run to close the third period to within two points. When Devontae Cacok scored for the Spurs with 11:34 left, the score was tied at 91. Two straight three-pointers by James Harden triggered an 18-6 Nets surge that ended with five more points from Harden for a 111-99 lead.
However, the Spurs responded with a 14-2 run to tie the score at 113 on a three-pointer by Joshua Primo with 40.2 seconds left. In overtime, the Nets regained a four-point lead only to see it tied at 119 on two foul shots by Dejounte Murray with 46.0 seconds left.
The Nets had the ball and called timeout with 16.1 seconds left to set up a play for Kevin Durant, but he had missed seven of his final eight shots, was covered and found Thomas for the winner.
"When I get out top, I realize teams might run and jump me out there and not let me play one-on-one," Durant said. "At the end of regulation, I saw [Thomas] coming, and I rushed the three-pointer and maybe should have waited a little bit and he probably could have got the same set in regulation.
"It was good to go through that so when I saw him again in overtime, I was able to slow down a bit and find Cam and he showcased his brilliance, making a tough runner. That’s his shot. I’m glad he knocked that down."
Durant topped the Nets (25-13) with 28, Harden added 26 plus 12 assists, Nic Claxton had 16 and 14 rebounds, and Patty Mills totaled 13. Lonnie Walker IV led the Spurs (15-24) with 25 points, Bryn Forbes added 18 and Murray had 19 plus 12 assists, and the Spurs made 13 of 32 from three-point range (40.6%).
Thomas said the final play was designed for Durant to isolate out high with his four teammates strung out near the baseline. "They came and doubled, so I was open and I made the play," Thomas said. "I got to the hoop, did a floater, just a good basketball play."
Thomas, who totaled 11 points and six rebounds in 30 minutes, said he had game-winners last season for LSU against South Carolina and Missouri. But that was when he was the big man on campus, the leading Division I freshman scorer in the nation. This was a whole different level.
Asked how it felt to have a superstar like Durant dish to him for the big shot, Thomas beamed. "It’s crazy to be part of a team with so many great players, basically legends of the game, and then for them to have trust in me to go in there and make that kind of shot in this kind of game. It’s kind of surreal, but you want to keep building on it and just keep working."