It was the perfect litmus test, a chance to see if the Nets could conquer the demons that plagued them every time they'd played a team with a winning record this season.
The defending champs were in town, winners of eight straight and rested for the most part after Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sat Tim Duncan and Tony Parker two nights earlier in Philadelphia. This was the same team that clobbered the Nets 11 days earlier.
That's what made last night's 95-93 overtime win that much more gut-wrenching. The Nets led by 14 midway through the fourth quarter, only to let the Spurs force OT. North Babylon's Danny Green drained the tying three-pointer with 2.4 seconds to play, punctuating a 20-6 run that could have left the Nets stunned.
Digging in and displaying "grit,'' as coach Lionel Hollins put it, they made all the necessary plays in the extra session to move to 1-7 against above-.500 teams and end the Spurs' streak.
"We fought, we battled,'' said Deron Williams, who had 17 points and nine assists.
"Tonight was tough coming off a back-to-back, having played and them sitting here waiting on us. But it was a big win for us. We fought through a lot of adversity. We withstood their run and we were still able to close it out and get a win.''
Mirza Teletovic, starting in place of a resting Kevin Garnett, was a force with 26 points and a career-high 15 rebounds. Brook Lopez added 16 points and 15 rebounds for the Nets (8-9). Teletovic posted his third career double-double by halftime, heeding Hollins' message.
"He told me, 'Zip your head back together and let's start playing the game,' '' said Teletovic, bothered he had struggled shooting the previous two games. "He told me to go back to what I usually do.''
Green paced the Spurs (13-5) with 20 points and had 10 rebounds. He helped to bring them all the way back after the Nets initially seized control with a 22-5 run in the third quarter and grabbed a 15-point edge.
The Nets have mastered the art of making things extraordinarily more difficult than they should be. They were fortunate that a few bounces went in their favor after they nearly threw the game away at the end of overtime.
Bojan Bogdanovic got trapped on the sideline and lost the ball out of bounds off himself with 9 seconds left, giving the Spurs a chance. But Manu Ginobili missed a potential winning three-pointer with 4.9 seconds left, and there was a mad scramble on the floor for the rebound, leading to an official replay.
"I saw Joe [Johnson] going after that loose ball, D-Will going after it as well,'' Lopez said. "I might as well jump on the dog pile, too.''
With .2 of a second left, Lopez was awarded a jump ball, and the 7-footer easily won the tap over the 6-3 Cory Joseph, preserving the Nets' cardiac win.
"I hope we can make this the start of something,'' Johnson said. "We had a big win yesterday over in Manhattan against the Knicks and then come back here tonight against the defending champions on a back-to-back, that was big. So I thought we showed a lot of guts, man, especially going to overtime and still pulling it out.''