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Nets haven’t won in San Antonio since 2002, but they came awfully close

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Gregg Popovich walked up to Kenny Atkinson after the game and said, “That was a bad non-call.”

That’s what the game came down to: A no-call from the refs, leading to a never-ending drought in San Antonio. Final score: Spurs 117, Nets 114.

With the Spurs leading by three and a little more than three seconds left in the game, the Nets went to Shabazz Napier out of a timeout. Napier hesitated, pumped and missed a long three that would’ve tied the game at 117. His body went forward and there was contact on the play, but the refs didn’t call it.

So, the Nets are now 28-25 on the season and haven’t beaten the Spurs in San Antonio since the 2001-2002 season.

“Kenny [Atkinson] and his group are fantastic,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game, adding, “To win against a team like that, it’s a good feeling...”

“With each week, month, year that goes by, the Nets will be closer to being where every team wants to be, and that’s competing in the playoffs,” Popovich said in January of 2018.

It shouldn’t have come down to the final play, though. The Nets took a seven-point lead following a long two from DeMarre Carroll, their largest lead of the night.

The Nets played a zone defense throughout the night and it worked, most of the night, but then the Spurs figured it out: Give the ball to LaMarcus Aldridge.

Brooklyn missed free throws and missed shots, all while failing to make a stop, and the Spurs answered with a 11-3 run and regained the lead with 4:54 left.

In the words of Richard Jefferson of YES: It’s like giving Tom Brady the ball with two minutes left.

The Nets hung around and trailed by just one point. The Spurs closed out the game on an 11-5 run with Aldridge scored eight of the 11 points. He ultimately put the Nets out with two free throws to put San Antonio up by three late.

Call it a moral victory, if you will. (RJ did.) They played hard and brought the 31-22 Spurs — the team they emulate — all the way to the end. No luck. And so, the Nets are 12-3 in the last 15 games in which they’ve been within five points with five points or less — 9-6 when the game is decided by three points or less.

They finished the month of January with 11 wins, which ties a franchise-high for most wins in the month of January. Also, the Nets eclipsed 100 points for the 12th straight game even without Spencer Dinwiddie, their third-leading scorer.

D’Angelo Russell led the way with 25 points and nine assists, but turned the ball over four times. It was his 12th game in January with 20 or more points.

DeMarre Carroll was huge off the bench with 18 points, playing the 3-and-D veteran leader role, as per usual. Joe Harris (15 points), Shabazz Napier (15 points) and Jarrett Allen (14 points but only three rebounds) helped with the scoring load.

They assisted on 30 of their 42 made field goals but missed 10 free throws, which ended up being the deciding factor. They also dominated in fast break scoring, outrunning San Antonio, 26-4, but as Atkinson noted, the last four was crucial to the Spurs win.

As for San Antonio, Aldridge was the star with 20 points and 13 rebounds. Derrick White was the high man with 26 points on 8-of-13 shooting. They turned the ball over just nine times and assisted on 23 of 40 made field goals.

Oh it would have been so nice. Almost like the first time you beat your dad in a one-on-one in the driveway. But like your dad would always say: Better luck next time.

The Nets played without Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Allen Crabbe, Jared Dudley and Dzanan Musa.

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BATMAN TO THE RESCUE

This game was very, very strange from the beginning and for reasons you would never expect. Players and refs scrambled off the court as bats — yes bats (four to be exact) — were flying around the floor just four minutes into the game.

Then, came Batman!

Say what you’d like, but he got the job done. The bats disappeared into the abyss of AT&T Center. Maybe someone told them Manu Ginobili was headed back to the gym.

PLAYOFF RACE

The Nets entered Thursday’s game standing as the six seed in the East — 4 12 games back of the Celtics for the fifth seed and 2 12 games ahead of the Heat for the seventh seed. They are fortunately 5 12 games ahead of the Pistons for the nine seed.

By night’s end, the Nets were 4 12 games ahead of Detroit, but now 5 12 behind Boston.

DLO ALL-STAR SNUB

D’Angelo Russell wasn’t selected as an Eastern Conference reserve for this year’s All-Star Game despite having averages of 19.7 points and 6.5 assists on 38 percent shooting — all career-high’s. Make your debate, but Russell has led a projected lottery (and injury-ridden) team to a 28-24 record and six seed in the East.

He should make it in Victor Oladipo’s spot, but it’s between him and Jimmy Butler. Nothing is guaranteed.

And let’s make it clear: Russell is an All-Star and if he gets further snubbed, it’s another sign of disrespect towards Russell and the Brooklyn Nets. The decision is up to Commissioner Adam Silver who will no doubt consult with his director of basketball operations, Kiki Vandeweghe, the former Nets coach and assistant GM.

If DLo does make it, he’ll be the first Net to make it since Joe Johnson in 2014.

BATTLE OF THE LATVIANS

Kristaps Porzingis is now a Maverick, having been traded after he told the Knicks he no longer trusted the organization. Thursday, Latvian’s two other favorite sons, Rodions and Kurucs and Davis Bertans faced off in San Antonio.

New York’s only Latvian basketball player, Kurucs scored nine points on 4-of-8 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Bertans had three points on 1-of-7 shooting and three rebounds. Advantage: Kurucs.

The two share a young agent, Arturs Kalnitis, tweeted out his thoughts on seeing his two big clients play against each other for the first time...

DINWIDDIE’S KICKS

For a different and quite batty perspective, head on over to Pounding the Rock, our Spurs sister site on SB Nation.

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Next up: The Nets head to Orlando for a 7:00 game on Saturday.