Facing a daunting set of back-to-back games at opposite ends of the country, the Nets needed overtime to avoid a disastrous finish in the first leg Sunday in Brooklyn.
Having dropped four of their previous five games — and five straight at home — in their first true slump of the season, the Nets coughed up a 10-point lead in the final four minutes of regulation before pulling out an exhaling 121-119 overtime win over the Spurs at Barclays Center.
The game was still tied at 119 until the final Brooklyn possession, when a double-teamed Kevin Durant (28 points) found cutting rookie Cam Thomas for a tiebreaking 10-foot floater in the paint with 1.7 seconds to go in extra time.
James Harden netted 15 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter and OT while also registering 12 assists, and Nic Claxton added 16 points with 14 rebounds for the Nets (25-13) ahead of Monday’s makeup game in Portland from a Dec. 23 COVID-19 postponement.
Before the game, Steve Nash said that he’s “very hesitant to make excuses” and implored his sliding team to “attack” the uniqueness of these two games.
“I can’t remember all the back-to-backs ever played, but I don’t remember any six-hour flights in between the back-to-back and three-hour time zones and all that stuff. So it’s different, but we’ve got to take it as an opportunity, an opportunity to succeed under adversity,” Nash said. “This moment, where we’re trying to find ourselves again, to have a tough back to back. so let’s embrace it.
“Let’s see if we can win both or at least play well in both. Maybe that gives us a spark.”
Lonnie Walker IV scored 25, Dejounte Murray had 19 and Bryn Forbes added 18 for the Spurs (15-24).
San Antonio led by as many as seven points in the second quarter, but Durant nailed seven of nine field-goal attempts for 18 points — with Harden dishing out nine assists — to push the Nets to a 60-51 lead at intermission.
They extended their cushion to 14 early in the third, with Claxton flushing a couple of dunks and rookie Kessler Edwards nailing two 3-pointers. But San Antonio closed the quarter on an 18-7 surge to trim the score to 91-89 entering the fourth, featuring a four-point play by Forbes and eight points by Jock Landale in the closing minutes.
The Spurs tied the score on the first possession of the fourth quarter, but Harden nailed a couple of 3-pointers and scored eight straight points for the Nets for a 99-93 advantage.
Rookie big man Day’Ron Sharpe also contributed five straight points – including a converted three-point play — during a 16-6 Brooklyn run that helped push the lead back to 10 with four minutes remaining.
Still, the Nets allowed the next 10 points for a tie game, capped by consecutive long-distance connections by Walker and Josh Primo for a 113-all game with 40.9 seconds to go.
Following an offensive foul by Spurs big man Jakob Poeltl, Durant misfired on a straightaway 3 in the closing seconds to send the game to overtime.