SAN ANTONIO — Kyrie Irving once again proved his value even as a road-only player, scoring 15 points in the fourth quarter as the Nets took over a tight game and pulled away to defeat the Spurs, 117-104, Friday night at AT&T Center. The victory improved the Nets’ road record to 17-5 and lifted them into sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference, a half game ahead of the Bulls and Heat.
James Harden dominated early for the Nets on his way to a triple-double that included 37 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.
But after a sluggish three periods, Irving asserted himself by scoring the first seven points in a 16-10 run to open the fourth quarter and expand the Nets’ lead to their largest of the game at 95-84. Later in the period, another seven straight points by Irving pushed the margin to 104-90 with 4:40 left to play.
"James was electric at times, and obviously the stat line is incredible, and Kyrie is an assassin at times, too, just being able to create offense for himself," Nets coach Steve Nash said.
Asked if Irving’s fourth-quarter takeover was the result of design or instinct, Nash said, "He had the hot hand a little bit when James was out at the start of the fourth, so we wanted to put it in his hands. So that was by design, and then he created that separation and James was excellent down the stretch."
Irving totaled 24 points for the Nets (29-16) and LaMarcus Aldridge had 16.
Dejounte Murray had a triple-double for the Spurs (17-29) with 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, Derrick White added 17 points and Jakob Poeltl finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Patty Mills and Aldridge played in San Antonio for the first time since leaving the Spurs in free agency to join the Nets. Before the introductions, the Spurs paid a special video tribute to Aldridge and Mills that was greeted with sustained cheers by the fans, especially when Mills kissed the 2014 NBA championship trophy.
"I was touched," Aldridge said. "When I left Portland, it was a bitter ending, and when I came here, I was just coming to win, just to be part of something special, so it was cool for me to see that."
According to Irving, Mills had tears as the video was playing. "There was a lot of memories that come flooding back just from being back in the building, but it was a special night," said Mills, who missed his first six shots but finished with nine points.
The Spurs held a 51-50 halftime lead, and the game stayed tight until midway through the period when Harden scored eight straight points early in an 18-9 Nets run to finish with a 79-74 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
Irving said he was mesmerized. "Watching James be himself and be very special and you can easily get caught up by just watching," he said. "So I was just trying to get out of the way, and I felt like I took some shots that just weren’t in alignment or I didn’t get to my spots as easy as I wanted to.
"James kind of yelled at me, like ‘Ky, get the ball!’ So I kind of took that personal and just came out in the fourth quarter with an aggressive mindset and just played off the flow of the offense."
When Harden was asked if Irving’s fourth quarter was a breakthrough for their chemistry in just his sixth game as a road-only player, Harden said, "For sure, it was a breakthrough. He’s capable of doing that at any point in the game. That’s one of the reasons we need him every single game, especially with everything that’s going on with our team. He’s a special talent."