SAN ANTONIO — Spencer Dinwiddie was brilliant once again for the Nets, scoring a career-high 41 points Thursday night at AT&T Center. But it wasn’t enough to break the Nets’ most longstanding road jinx as veteran Patti Mills came off the bench to score 27 points, including brilliant 7-of-10 shooting from three-point range, to lead the Spurs to a 118-105 victory that was their 17th straight home regular-season win over the Nets.
To make matters worse, the Nets lost outstanding reserve David Nwaba, who suffered a torn right Achilles tendon with 10:54 left in the game, ending his season. In addition to Dinwiddie, who shot 14-for-29 in surpassing his previous high of 39 points, the Nets (15-13) got 19 points and 13 rebounds from Jarrett Allen.
The Spurs (11-16) got a 20-point, 10-rebound effort from LaMarcus Aldridge.
“We can talk about the game, but I’m concerned about David Nwaba,” downcast Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “With where our thoughts are, it’s tough to focus on the game. David was playing as well as anybody on the team. It’s a tough blow. That’s where our hearts and minds are right now.
“We’ve been here before with injuries. A young guy like that,he was playing great. I just really feel for him…You feel ill when you think about it. It’s kind of shocking.”
Before Nwaba’s injury, the Nets were cruising with a 12-point lead midway through the third quarter when their offense suddenly dove off a cliff. The Spurs went on a 28-7 run that included 13 points from Mills to take a 90-81 lead early in the fourth quarter. During that span, the Nets made only 2 of 13 shots and committed four turnovers.
With just under six minutes left, the Nets benefitted from a rare five-point possession. Taurean Prince drew a flagrant foul on a three-point shot and made all of the free throws before the Nets maintained possession and Dinwiddie dunked at the 5:44 mark to cut the Nets’ deficit to 96-94. But that was as close as they got.
“Defensively, we let up a bit,” Joe Harris said. “They turned bad shots by us into easy baskets. They got rhythm, and the momentum shifted.”
Nwaba’s injury took place with the Nets down four early in the fourth period and made an emotional impact. At that point, Dinwiddie was on the bench watching when the non-contact injury happened.
“He had the same kind of look like when I tore my ACL,” Dinwiddie said, referring to a serious knee injury he suffered in college. “People were asking if anyone was near him. Nah. That was a wrap. His face was in shock. That’s that look.”
For most of this season, the Nets have been beating up on losing teams, and the Spurs entered with an uncharacteristic 10-16 record. But they still are called the Spurs, and that franchise hadn’t lost to the Nets since Jan. 22, 2002, although the Nets did win Game 2 of the 2003 NBA Finals on June 6 that year.
The Nets put together a 27-15 run, including nine points from Dinwiddie and seven from Garrett Temple, to take their biggest lead at 56-42. But the Spurs scored the final eight points of the first half to cut their deficit to six.
In the third period, the Nets rebuilt their lead to 12 points, but that was where the offense broke down.
Speaking of the Spurs’ rally at the end of the first half, Temple said, “That was a momentum change. In the second half, the second unit didn’t score.”
As for Nwaba’s injury, Temple said, “He’s a great guy who worked hard to get in the league and was playing probably the best he’s played. It’s tough. My heart goes out to him.”