Nets 90, Spurs 84
The roars of the crowd and the shouts from the public address announcer made it feel like this was a huge win.
For the New Jersey Nets, though, there wasn't much celebrating. Just relief.
Relief at having removed their name from the line in the record book no team wants to be on.
The Nets notched their 10th victory Monday night, avoiding any chance of tying for the worst record in NBA history by beating the short-handed San Antonio Spurs 90-84.
``You don't thank God, but you don't want to go down as the worst team in the history of the game,'' reserve guard Keyon Dooling said. ``Absolutely it's a relief, you don't want to go down in history as the worst team ever.''
Brook Lopez had 22 points and 12 rebounds for the Nets, who grabbed control with a 15-4 run late in the fourth quarter to improve to 10-64. The 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, who went 9-73, will remain in the books as the league's worst team.
Public address announcer Gary Sussman shouted ``We got 10! The Nets win!'' after New Jersey snapped a 14-game losing streak in the series, committing a franchise record-low four turnovers - none in the second half - in beating San Antonio for the first time since the 2003 NBA finals.
``It's a big relief. It's a big relief,'' guard Courtney Lee said. ``Now we can go out and ball and have fun and play.''
With Manu Ginobili (lower back spasms) joining Tony Parker on the injured list and Tim Duncan struggling through a poor shooting game, the Spurs had few answers on the second night of a back-to-back following an impressive victory at Boston on Sunday.
George Hill scored 19 points and former Net Richard Jefferson finished with 16 after a strong start for the Spurs, who fell out of a sixth-place tie in the Western Conference with Oklahoma City and Portland.
Jefferson said the talk of the Nets' record was more on the minds of the media than the players.
``There's no feelings for them or thoughts on it, it's just kind of we're all professional athletes,'' he said. ``They have enough talent over there to win some games, but you don't really go into it thinking about it too much.''
New Jersey has been in danger of the worst record ever since opening the season with an NBA-record, 18-game losing streak. But the Nets have now won three of four, taking the pressure off the remainder of their schedule - while acknowledging that improving to 54 games under .500 isn't exactly cause for a party.
``We don't want to be a part of the worst team in history, so it's exciting to get 10 wins, but it is 10 wins, you know what I mean?'' point guard Devin Harris said. ``It's fun. We haven't won that many games, so we are excited to win. We are continuing to move forward.
``We're not going to jump through the roof because we won 10 games.''
They were helped Monday when Ginobili, the reigning Western Conference player of the week, had such trouble with his back that he had trouble putting his pants on in the morning. Then reserve Roger Mason Jr. was forced to sit out the second half with a sprained right pinky knuckle.
Duncan finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds but missed eight of his first 12 shots before finishing 6 of 15 from the field. San Antonio was just 11 of 20 from the foul line.
Lee scored 19 points and Harris had 17 points and nine assists for the Nets. Terrence Williams had 11 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter.
The Nets tied it at 72 on Williams' 3-pointer with 8:13 remaining, but Hill scored before setting up Matt Bonner's 3 for a 77-72 lead with 6:12 left. New Jersey answered with eight in a row to regain the lead, and after a rare basket by Duncan, Lopez slammed down Harris' alley-oop pass for an 82-79 edge with 3:27 to play.
A free throw by Lopez and a basket by Williams pushed it to 85-79, but San Antonio was back within three after Bonner's 3-pointer with 34 seconds left. The Spurs got the ball back after Harris' miss, but Duncan threw away a pass and the Nets closed it out from the foul line.
``We just didn't have anybody who could score. If you are not scoring, you need to make free throws, which we didn't, or at least you have to take care of the ball, which we didn't,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. ``So bad from the free throw line, bad handling the ball and found nobody who could score.''
This appeared to be a tough week for New Jersey to get win No. 10, with San Antonio, Phoenix and New Orleans all coming to the Izod Center. But the Spurs who showed up Monday hardly looked like the team that was coming off victories over Cleveland and Boston.
``A team in a situation like that, you try to take them out of the game early and not make it a ballgame, and they have skilled ballplayers,'' Duncan said. ``Despite their record, they have a lot of guys who are very good, so we gave them the confidence to stay in it and they made the plays more than we did.''
Jefferson scored 10 points in the first quarter, when the Spurs shot 54 percent and opened a 33-27 lead. It was ugly from there, as the teams combined for 29 points with neither shooting above 35 percent in the second before San Antonio took a 46-43 lead into halftime.
Hill and DeJuan Blair each scored eight in the third - the rest of the Spurs managed only four - and San Antonio was up four heading to the final period.
NOTES: Ginobili said he was feeling better after treatment and expects to play in the next game. ... Jefferson is third on the Nets' career scoring list. ... The Spurs signed swingman Alonzo Gee from Austin of the NBA Development League. He recently played 11 games for the Washington Wizards.