SAN ANTONIO — History is an important subject in a city known as the home of the Alamo. But Nets coach Kenny Atkinson swore before Tuesday night’s game at AT&T Center that he only was concerned with the here and now and not the Nets’ history of futility on the road against the Spurs. But the truth is the Nets arrived with a 14-game losing streak in San Antonio since an NBA Finals win on the Spurs’ home floor on June 6, 2003.
Those numbers reflect the consistent standard of excellence set by a Spurs organization that Nets general manager Sean Marks worked for and has used as his model. But nothing changed this time as the Nets lost their 15th straight road game against the Spurs, 109-97.
It was competitive until midway through the third period when the Spurs (24-11) broke out of a 54-all tie and got on a 22-6 roll that included five points each from aging veterans Tony Parker and Pau Gasol to build a 16-point lead they never lost. Their high lead was 17 points.
The Spurs were led by their veteran core, including Kawhi Leonard (21 points), LaMarcus Aldridge (20 points, nine rebounds), Gasol (15 points, 12 rebounds, five assists) and Parker (14 points). They shot 51.2 percent from the field, and they got to the line to make 20 of 24 foul shots.
By comparison the Nets (12-21) managed only a 7-of-9 showing at the foul line, which led to a technical on Atkinson for complaining about the imbalance. The Nets got strong efforts off the bench from Caris LeVert (18 points, five assists) and Jarrett Allen (12 points, nine rebounds). Allen Crabbe had 15 points, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 13 points, and Spencer Dinwiddie had 12.
The loss was the fifth in six games for the Nets. Atkinson pinpointed the third quarter problems as the reason this one got away.
“We had a tough time scoring in that third quarter,’ Atkinson said. “Credit to their defense. We turned it over a few times. I thought LaMarcus Aldridge did some damage in the post. Offensively, we weren’t good enough. But listen, I thought we did a great job driving the ball. We were at the rim all night. It is what it is, but our guys put pressure on the rim and we’ll do it again [Wednesday night in New Orleans].”
Asked if it was frustrating to get only nine free throws, Atkinson said, “Yes, it’s frustrating, but we’ve got to do it again tomorrow night and the night after and keep doing it. And we’ve got to finish better, too, and make that extra pass. I like the process. The results weren’t great offensively.”
The Nets made it a competitive game in the second quarter when the lead changed hands six times before the Spurs took a 50-44 halftime lead. Early in the third quarter the Nets came back to tie it at 51 on a deep three by Dinwiddie, and another Crabbe three-pointer tied it again at 54. That was where the Spurs seemingly decided to put their foot down on the Nets’ throats. It never got closer than eight points the rest of the way.
Leave it to Nets veteran DeMarre Carroll to offer perspective about how the Spurs handled the Nets’ third-quarter surge. “They never panicked,” Carroll said. “We made our run, and they stayed poised, stayed true to their system and got the shots they wanted. It just shows the composure you’ve got to have to be a winning team at a high level.”
At the same time, Carroll likes what he has seen recently from his young teammates. “I think we’re definitely getting better,” Carroll said. “We’re playing like we’re supposed to play.”