SAN ANTONIO — The Nets could have ended three losing streaks last night, but there was really only one they cared about.
They didn’t want their season-long four-game skid to go to five, which is why Devin Harris played with sore ribs and Keyon Dooling played with a swollen ankle.
The Nets played valiantly, well enough to win. But as good as they were — only five turnovers — and as hard as they fought, the Spurs had the best player on the floor and made the plays when they were needed.
Too much Tim Duncan and too much Spurs’ savvy proved to be too much for the Nets. They left San Antonio with a 94-91 loss that extended three losing streaks. They’ve dropped five in a row, seven straight in San Antonio and 12 consecutive games to the Spurs.
But the Nets also seem to have left San Antonio with an understanding of how to play winning basketball on most nights. If they do what they did Friday night to most teams, the Nets are going to win games again. Maybe even tonight in Memphis.
“When we give the type of effort we had we have a chance to win every night,” Harris said. “That’s what you want as a team.”
It’s up to the Nets. You can’t have an effort like this and then play lackluster against the Grizz.
They should beat the Grizzlies, unless, of course, they expended all their energy in this game. Even so, they have to pull out a win tonight if they want to split this trip, which would be a success. It ends Monday in Oklahoma City.
But you have to see how Harris feels after logging 40 minutes and Dooling 24 minutes. Both said they were fine afterward. Harris certainly played as if he was perfectly healthy, finishing with a team-high 27 points on 9-of-19 shooting.
“I felt good,” Harris said. “I felt fine. The pad is a little bit different. I took a couple of shots coming off screens, but we changed the pad a little bit so it can handle more pressure.”
If only the Nets could have hit a couple of more shots, they would have enjoyed their best win of the season.
They had the Spurs in trouble in the first half as they led by eight with a pair of chances to go up double digits, but couldn’t. The Nets lost the lead and trailed by seven in the third period and it seemed Duncan (30 points, 15 rebounds) and company were ready to send them packing.
But it was tied with 6:01 left on two Carter foul shots. Then the Spurs went up by six with about 3:20 left, but Dooling and Harris scored five straight to make it a one-point game with 2:13 to go.
The fight was there. So were the desire and the urgency. The played as if they were tired of losing and wanted one streak to end, and in the process, two more would have been snapped.
But the Nets’ offense sputtered with three chances to take the lead. You can’t do that against the Spurs. They have too many players and playmakers.
So on the next possession, Manu Ginobili, who was so quiet you didn’t know he played, drove and delivered a pass to Michael Finley. He buried the corner three that essentially extended the Nets’ three streaks.
“That’s a battle-tested team,” Dooling said. “They made plays down the stretch and we didn’t.”
But the Nets played their best game in weeks and maybe it triggered something inside that will carry over to tonight and going forward. Maybe one streak will end tonight.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)