SAN ANTONIO — In the course of a 26-game stretch in which they won 20 times, the Nets became quite adept at closing out tight games in the fourth quarter, and it seemed they were on their way to doing that against the Spurs when they took a seven-point lead with just under eight minutes left Thursday night.
But the tide of history was against them. They blew that lead and suffered their 16th straight regular-season road loss to the Spurs, 117-114, at AT&T Center.
The Nets went up 107-100 on DeMarre Carroll’s layup with just under eight minutes left, but the Spurs kept attacking and found ways to get to the rim through a zone defense that limited them to 24 points in the paint in the first three quarters before allowing 14 points in the paint in the final period.
After taking their last lead at 109-106 on Joe Harris’ three-pointer with 2:46 left, the Nets were outscored 11-5 the rest of the way. They had a chance to tie it with 3.6 seconds left, but Shabazz Napier missed a three-pointer contested by two Spurs.
It was a night in which little mistakes added up to a loss. Coach Kenny Atkinson mentioned their 19-for-29 shooting from the foul line and a couple of breakaway baskets by the Spurs in the fourth quarter at a point when the Nets led them 26-0 in fast-break points.
“We competed, we fought,” Atkinson said. “They made their free throws and we didn’t. You’ve got to make your free throws on the road. Then I thought we broke down in transition a couple of times, a couple of key possessions where we didn’t run back and we didn’t get matched up. They made us pay . . . You have to make less mistakes than the other team. I thought we made a bunch of mistakes at the end on both sides of the ball.”
D’Angelo Russell topped the Nets (28-25) with 25 points, nine assists and five rebounds. Carroll and Harris each scored 18.
The Nets held the Spurs (31-22) to 40.0 percent shooting, but they had six players in double figures, led by Derrick White’s 26 points. LaMarcus Aldridge had 20 points and 13 rebounds and DeMar DeRozan added 15 points and 10 rebounds, but the Nets held them to a combined 10-for-29 shooting effort, a testament to the effectiveness of their zone.
“It helped us, especially with their big studs, Aldridge and DeRozan,” Atkinson said. “It helped with the post-up game. It helped keep DeRozan in front of us. He’s No. 1 in the league in drives.”
Nets center Jarrett Allen enjoyed a productive game against fellow former Texas Longhorn Aldridge. Allen had 14 points, four assists and two blocked shots. “It’s always fun,” Allen said of the matchup with Aldridge, who was named to the Western Conference All-Star team Thursday. “He’s a really talented guy, and I have pride in my defense. We went back and forth the whole game.”
Describing the fourth-quarter letdown by the Nets, Allen said, “We’re not perfect. But at the end of the day, we have to execute. I think we just had continuous mistake after mistake, and they became more aggressive driving down to the rim.”
In the fourth quarter, the Nets shot just 30.4 percent (7-for-23). “You’re not going to make shots every night, but we gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game even with the missed shots,” Russell said. “It’s hard to win against teams that have a good veteran group, are well-coached. They’re not going to beat themselves. When you go to an away game, you’ve got to come with your hard hat on.”
That’s especially true for the Nets in San Antonio. The Nets last won here in Game 2 of the 2003 NBA Finals and last won a regular-season game in San Antonio in 2002. Asked about that long stretch of futility, Atkinson said, “I think a lot of franchises have had trouble winning here, not just the Nets. I say it every time we come here: They’re one of the top organizations in professional sports.”
Both teams got an early shock when the game had to be halted when a swarm of bats came out of the rafters and began swooping low over the court. It took a few minutes, but after a lot of towel-waving by the operations staff, the bats retreated and the game continued.