The Nets’ game against the Spurs on Monday night at Barclays Center was a simple math equation. On defense, the Nets gave up two-point shots, and on offense, they made 19 three-pointers. It added up to a much-easier-than-expected 101-85 victory over slumping San Antonio.
The Spurs were held to their lowest point total of the season, and their 85 points was the second-lowest for a Nets opponent this season. San Antonio shot 36.5 percent for the game, including 16.7 percent (4-for-24) from three-point range.
The Nets (32-30) shot 38.0 percent (19-for-50) from outside the arc and actually finished with more makes from three-point range than from two-point range (16-for-31).
D’Angelo Russell had 23 points, eight assists and seven rebounds for the Nets. Caris LeVert, who had seven assists and five rebounds, and Joe Harris added 15 points apiece.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 26 points and 10 rebounds and DeMar DeRozan added 23 points for the Spurs (33-29), who cut a 23-point fourth-quarter deficit to 12 before losing their fourth straight game.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson credited his team with matching the Spurs’ physicality. Asked if the Spurs essentially took the shots the Nets gave them because Aldridge and DeRozan are midrange shooters who lack three-point ability, he said: “They’re very good midrange shooters. We mixed it up with them. It was key shutting down their three-point shooters. Patty Mills, we did a really good job on him . . . But 85 points against that team is a good job by our guys.”
The Nets were fortunate to catch the Spurs at the end of an eight-game road trip necessitated because their home arena in San Antonio is hosting a rodeo. The Spurs finished 1-7 on the trip, including a Sunday night loss to the lowly Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
The Nets knew they had to make the most of it because they have their own backbreaking seven-game road trip coming up in mid-March.
“It’s huge,” LeVert said of the win. “We knew they were on a back-to-back, so we wanted to jump on them early.”
Still, it was a close game until the end of the second quarter, when LeVert, who had been scoreless to that point, scored every point in a 12-2 run that gave the Nets a 52-38 halftime lead.
The Nets really took charge at the start of the third quarter with a 20-13 surge that included six three-pointers — two each by Harris, Treveon Graham and Russell — for a 72-51 lead.
The last two in that stretch were by Russell, and the second of those came from about 30 feet out on the left wing. It demonstrated the utter confidence with which Russell — who was 5-for-11 from three-point range — has been playing.
Asked about Russell’s bold shot selection, Atkinson said: “He earned it. Some of my assistant coaches were going crazy: ‘What is he doing?’ With DLo, he needs a certain amount of freedom. He’s a creative player who plays well with freedom.”
The third quarter ended with the Nets holding an 81-59 lead, and the Spurs’ point total marked the lowest yield by the Nets through three quarters this season.
Harris was even hotter than Russell with 5-for-6 three-point shooting, and Atkinson faulted himself for not getting him more than seven shots total. But Harris was content to sit back and admire Russell when he took over in the third quarter.
“When he gets rolling, we want him to be aggressive,” Harris said. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence. Kenny instills that in all of us to play with freedom offensively.”