Brooklyn Boro

Bitter end to Nets’ trip in Oklahoma City

Headed back to Brooklyn after blowing lead to Thunder

March 15, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The Nets were a half away from a very successful road trip Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.

Then, the third quarter happened.

Brooklyn blew a 10-point lead following intermission and never seriously challenged thereafter, absorbing a 121-107 defeat to the Thunder in front of 16,976 fans at the Paycom Center.

Off to an impressive 3-1 start to their challenging five-game journey and trying to hold on to an automatic berth in a first-round playoff series, the Nets (39-30) got outscored 38-20 in the third period, watching a 62-52 advantage slip away.

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Brooklyn missed all seven of its 3-point attempts in the quarter, while the Thunder drilled 8-of-15 from long range.

“They started executing well and hitting shots,” lamented Brooklyn forward Cameron Johnson. “But I think it’s more about us than them.”

It was Brooklyn’s worst third-quarter differential this season, and dropped the Nets a half game behind the East River rival New York Knicks for fifth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Only the top six teams in each conference avoid the league’s play-in tournament, but the Nets at least remained 2 1/2 lengths in front of seventh-place Miami with 13 regular-season games to go.

Mikal Bridges scored a team-high 34 points and Johnson finished with 23 for Brooklyn, which had won five of its previous six games, including Sunday night’s heart-stopping 122-120 triumph at Denver.

Mikal Bridges scored 34 points, but it wasn’t enough as Brooklyn failed to complete its five-game road trip with a victory. AP Photo by Sue Ogrocki

Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn wasn’t interested in taking bows for an otherwise successful 3-2 trip, instead pointing out Brooklyn’s poor performance in the first 12 minutes after halftime.

“That’s what playoff basketball is about. You’re going to play every other day,” he noted. “Twenty assists in the first half, then not to have an assist in the third quarter was a big (factor) in us losing tonight.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored a game-high 35 points and Lu Dort equaled his season high with 24, including five 3-pointers in the fateful third quarter, for Oklahoma City (34-35), which rallied for its fourth consecutive home win.

“We didn’t go down 25 and we easily could have,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “We just kind of hung in there long enough for the game to turn.”

Spencer Dinwiddie had 16 points and Nic Claxton finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds for Brooklyn, which will kick off a four-game homestand Thursday night vs. Sacramento.

“Our offense got a little stagnant (in the second half) and we weren’t sharing the ball like we did in the first half,” said Nets guard Seth Curry.

“For the most part we did a good job on the road (trip), but now it’s time to go home and take care of business.”

Brooklyn led by as many as 14 points in the first half, but the long trip, coupled with the Thunder’s third-quarter deadeye shooting, left the Nets to ponder how they will respond come Thursday after a 14-point loss.

“They made some 3s in the beginning of the third (quarter),” said Bridges. “Other than that, they just outplayed us in the second half.”

Vaughn pointed out how important the stretch run to the postseason will be for a squad that seems to have adjusted well thus far to losing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving ahead of last month’s trade deadline.

“We talked about, every single possession for this team matters. Every 50-50 ball matters,” he said. “You’ve got to get dirty. You’ve got to get on the floor. You’ve got to get that possession. … We didn’t do that often enough and we paid for it tonight.”

Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn was disappointed by his team’s third-quarter effort Tuesday night in Oklahoma City. AP Photo by Sue Ogrocki

NOTHING BUT NET: Vaughn was asked about Ben Simmons’ absence for the 11th straight contest Tuesday, but insisted that the versatile swingman would not be shut down for the season. Simmons has been dealing with knee and back issues since his last game on Feb. 15. … After hosting the Kings in Brooklyn on Thursday, the Nets will have a rematch with the Nuggets on Sunday before a two-game home series against Cleveland on Tuesday and Thursday of next week. … The Nets announced Tuesday that the first 5,000 fans to attend their March 21 contest vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers will receive a miniature replica of the Barclays Center as part of the franchise’s ongoing 10-year anniversary celebration of their move to Downtown Brooklyn.

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