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The Spurs flame out in the fourth quarter again, this time in loss to the Nets

The Spurs’ inability stay competitive in fourth quarters cost them again.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

It’s becoming a tiring narrative to write about, but it’s been the theme of nearly every Spurs loss for the last month. After playing well enough for the better part of three quarters, even against far superior teams, they suddenly fall apart in the fourth. Shots stop falling, the defense can’t hold on forever while waiting for the cold spell to end, and the opponent leaves with a relatively comfortable victory. It was the same story on Friday night, this time in a 117-102 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

Even without Kevin Durant, who was out with a strained knee, the Nets are still stockpiled with star talent. In just his sixth game of the season, Kyrie Irving made his presence felt early with seven straight points to help get his team out to a 14-5 lead, while the Spurs seemed timid and hesitant to shoot. They returned from a timeout with more tenacity on both ends, and five points from Doug McDermott and nine from Dejounte Murray got the Spurs off the matt and out 26-24 lead by the end of the quarter.

The second quarter was a slow one on offense for both clubs, but after the Nets creeped up to 45-41 lead, the Spurs responded with a 10-2 run and looked like they were going to head into halftime with the momentum, until a James Harden and-one ended the half with Spurs up 51-50 — but not before they almost handed the Nets the lead by botching the inbounds pass off the free throw. Derrick White attempted a pass to a covered Vassell two-thirds of the way up the court with 2.2 second left, but the ball sailed left into the stands, never even getting inbounds, and it was the Nets’ ball back under their own basket with a chance to take the halftime lead. Fortunately, Patty Mills missed the floater.

Both teams were more aggressive coming out of halftime. Even though Mills finally got on the scoreboard five early points, the Spurs had some crisp offensive possessions led by White and got their lead up to four points midway through the third quarter. But the momentum briefly shifted back to the Nets with Harden going on an 8-0 run of his own — after he briefly knocked White out of the game with an elbow to the face that wasn’t called, leaving him bleeding all over the floor. White, tough as nails like always, returned a few minutes later and hit three, got an offensive foul called on Harden (finally) and two FTs to get the Spurs the lead again at 74-73 with 1:39 left in the third, but that would be the end of their good times for the night.

The Nets ended the quarter on a 6-0 run to get up 79-74 — highlighted by Bruce Brown blocking White on the Spurs’ final two possessions while slamming one home with a tenth of a second remaining. With the Spurs once again staring their fourth quarter woes in the face without any momentum, Irving woke back up after disappearing for the middle two quarters, with the Nets’ first 7 points and 18 overall, while Harden had 11 points in the final frame. Meanwhile, shots kept rolling off rim for Spurs, and while Murray tried to remain aggressive to keep the Spurs in the game, it was yet another loss in which they can point to their fourth quarter play as the main culprit.

Game Notes

  • As the Nets got out to their first double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, Gregg Popovich decided he’d had enough with the refs and got himself T-ed up, which seems odd in a game where the Spurs had a rare advantage at the free throw line — 24 attempts vs. 12 for a Nets team that has Harden on it — but it was the no-calls that were getting on his last nerve. Not only had the refs bafflingly refused to review the play where Harden nailed White in the face (since it was a no-call in real time, I’m not sure if they could have reviewed it after the fact), but a string of them in the fourth quarter finally sent Pop over the edge, specifically Blake Griffin going over Jakob Poeltl’s back for an offensive rebound, and Kessler Edwards getting away with a blatant travel on the ensuing possession that ended with Nets free throws.
  • It was reunion night, with Mills and LaMarcus Aldridge making their first appearance in the AT&T Center since leaving last year. After a heartwarming thank you video before the game, the two former Spurs proceeded to not be too mean to their former team. Aldridge had the better night of the two, with an efficient 16 points and 7 rebounds off the bench, while Mills struggled as a starter, with 9 points on 1-5 shooting from three.

Play of the Night

I’m going with this play for a couple of reasons that aren’t necessarily game related — although it was a great showcase of team basketball. One is it brings back fond memories whenever Lonnie Walker torches Harden. The other is I can’t help but giggle a little when watching this play because it also brings back memories of “James Harden defense” from back in the day (a.k.a. just standing and watching while a player goes around him). Granted, that’s not quite the case here, and he has improved his defensive reputation over the years, but this play still makes me laugh.

SVP Awards

3rd place (1 point) — Jakob Poeltl | 15 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks

No one really had a “great” game for the Spurs tonight, but three players stood out more than any, and Poeltl was one of them with a solid double-double. His touch inside the paint wasn’t quite there tonight, with 6-12 shooting being low for a paint scorer, but he did make 3-5 free throws (which is good for him!) and played good defense when he wasn’t forced to come out and guard Harden or Irving on the perimeter.

2nd place (2 points) — Derrick White | 17 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists

Again, not a “great” night for White considering he shot just 4-16 overall, but he still hit 3-7 from three, and he had the Spurs on a brief role in the third quarter before being forced out after taking that elbow to the face. The momentum drastically shifted back to the Nets in that moment, and then back to the Spurs when he returned. Clearly he was having an impact.

1st place (3 points) — Dejounte Murray | 25 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists

It’s almost a given at this point that Murray is the Spurs’ default best player, especially on nights when few others have it going. He did his best to keep the Spurs in it late by taking over the offense in the fourth quarter when nothing was falling, plus this was his second triple-double in a row — making him the first and only Spur to do it twice in a row other than David Robinson in 1991. And with one more, he will tie the admiral for most triple-doubles in franchise history with 14.

Season leaderboard

1st - Dejounte Murray - 73pts

2nd - Derrick White - 46pts

3rd - Jakob Poeltl - 39pts

4th - Devin Vassell - 29pts

5th - Keldon Johnson - 25pts

6th - Lonnie Walker IV - 17pts

7th - Bryn Forbes - 12pts

8th - Doug McDermott - 11pts

9th - Thaddeus Young - 9pts

10th - Keita Bates-Diop - 5pts

11th - Jock Landale - 4pts

12th - Josh Primo - 3pts

13th - Drew Eubanks - 2pts

14th - Tre Jones - 1pt

Up Next: Sunday vs. Philadelphia

The Spurs will be looking to conclude their seven-game homestand on a high note when the Philidelphia 76ers come to town on Sunday. Tip-off will be at 6:00 PM CT on Bally Sports SW-SA.