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Thunderstruck: Nets zapped by Thunder at home, 130-109

Oklahoma City Thunder v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Thunderstruck.

In their fourth game in five days, the Nets were defeated by the Thunder, 130-109. With the loss, Brooklyn falls to 26-15 on the season and is back to .500 at home (11-11).

“One part of us is glad to get this week over with. Traveling across the country and playing four in five nights. Timezones and late games. Early games and all that stuff, I felt for our guys a little bit trying to get some juice tonight,” said Steve Nash after the 130-109 loss. “We didn’t play well. That’s definitely part of it and those guys played very well. It was tough. You can just tell it was a tough ask for our guys with all the travel and playing.”

After landing back on the east coast around 5:00 a.m. Thursday morning — and getting to their homes two hours later, the Nets were exhausted at game time. To stack the odds higher, the team was without Kevin Durant and Patty Mills, who both took a needed rest day. And two of their bigs, Nic Claxton (hamstring) and LaMarcus Aldridge (right foot soreness) were out and Kyrie Irving couldn’t even attend the game.

“It feels different when we got everybody there. Like, last night (in Chicago) was just how it’s supposed to be a majority of the time,” said James Harden. “Ideal, we would love to have yesterday’s team every single game. And then like I said last night, see where we can gauge ourselves, see where we can get better, see what we’re not great at, but it’s kind of hard to tell because we got different lineups every game.”

James Harden, who logged a game-high 36 minutes tallied 26 points on 7-of-22 shooting from the field and 3-of-11 from 3-point range. The Nets lone star snagged seven rebounds and dished nine assists as well in the loss.

It was another opportunity for the Nets’ rookies with six rotation players out. Cam Thomas provided a needed scoring punch with 21 points —tying his career-high — in 33 minutes off the bench. David Duke Jr. had a solid outing, recording 15 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the field and a perfect 3-of-3 from deep, to go with five boards and an assist in 20 minutes. Kessler Edwards, who started for the Nets tallied nine-point, two rebounds and a block while Day’Ron Sharpe, who also started finished with four points, six rebounds, one assist and a blocked shot in 20 minutes of play.

“It’s great experience for all of our guys to get more and more minutes,” said Nash on the rookies’ contributions over the tough four-game stretch.

“Play Chicago and get back at five in the morning, got a game today. It’s something I ain’t never done before,” said Sharpe on Thursday night’s game. “But I told you, man. They tell me I get to play. I could travel all day if I get to play, so it doesn’t matter to me! And if we win games, obviously.”

Paul Millsap, who hadn’t played since December 27 got some run Thursday night. The veteran provided Brooklyn with strong minutes, scoring eight points while snagging 10 rebounds, dishing one assist and swatting three shots in 19 minutes. Millsap shot 4-of-6 from the field and 0-of-1 from three.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Nets started Harden, Sharpe, Edwards, Bruce Brown and DeAndre’ Bembry for the second game of the latest back-to-back. Brooklyn struggled to close the driving lanes, giving the Thunder an opportunity and a 10-2 run. Powered by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a series of drives to the basket, OKC took an early 15-11 lead at the 6:57 mark of the opening quarter.

Brooklyn was able to cut the deficit to three, but Oklahoma City responded in a big way. The Thunder continued to thrive offensively and gathered a series of defensive stops off Brooklyn’s miscues (two turnovers for five points). While the Nets couldn’t buy a bucket (39.1 percent shooting from the field and 22.2 percent from deep), Oklahoma City, behind the play of Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort (26 points combined) closed the quarter on an 11-2 run to take a 38-26 lead.

Millsap started the second quarter for the Nets and the veteran’s presence on the glass opened up second-chance opportunities for Brooklyn but they struggled to get over the hump. The Thunder continued to drive to the basket, providing little resistance and held a double-digit lead for a majority of the frame.

The chasing and exhausted Nets ended the half giving up 70 points to the lowest-scoring team in the league and hit the break with a 70-51 deficit (the largest halftime lead for the Thunder this season).

Harden was the only Net in double-figures with 16 points on 4-of-12 shooting from the field and 1-of-4 from three-point range, to go with three boards and four minutes. Millsap had a solid second quarter, tallying eight points, six boards and two blocks in 12 minutes. As a team, the Nets scored 32 of their 51 points in the paint but shot only 13.3 percent from downtown (2-of-15).

Oklahoma City Thunder v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

It was yet another 30-point quarter for OKC. Despite being down and exhausted, Brooklyn build a rally midway through the third. The Nets forged a small burst from the rookies to trim the deficit to 10 points, but couldn’t string together defensive stops to help their rally. The Thunder, led by the sparkling Gilgeous-Alexander continued to get to the rim with ease and get open looks from deep to answer the Nets’ scoring. Oklahoma City hit the fourth quarter with a 100-83 lead.

“We junked up the game a little bit. We went box-in-one and were able to throw them out of their rhythm a little bit, get out a run and make some plays. Just the willingness though with heavy legs and fatigue to try to play and figure some things out, scrap and create some turnovers, or to force some missed shots. That stretch, I thought was great,” said Nash on the Nets’ late third-quarter run. “It gave us a lift and a boost but we obviously couldn’t close the deficit.”

Brooklyn put Harden back in the game after a lengthy third-quarter rest to start the fourth in hopes of forging a late-game rally. And the Nets did just that, opening the frame on a 13-4 run to cut the deficit to single digits and get the crowd back into the contest. OKC absorbed Brooklyn’s burst and after a Dort right-wing three, the Thunder lead was back up to 15 with six minutes left. Nash and the Nets waived the white flag shortly after, taking Harden out of the game with five minutes left after the Thunder built their lead back to 20 and all hopes of a late-game rally disappearing.

SGA finished with 33 points on 11-of-18 shooting followed by Dort with 27 and Giddey 19.

The Film Room

Brooklyn had maybe its best game of pick-and-roll defense since early November against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday. After switching most of its pick-and-rolls to start the new year, Brooklyn went back to its trusty drop coverage that ruled the first three weeks of the season and produced a top-10 defense. The Nets were sharp, and the Bulls couldn’t get much of anything from the oldest play in basketball.

Meaning that it only made sense that the Nets fell apart the very next night. Like, completely. While, yes, the Thunder had an outlier shooting night from deep at 44.4%, what really doomed Brooklyn was allowing so many easy ones; Oklahoma City got whatever they wanted out of the pick-and-roll at the Barclays Center.

The Nets tried just about everything to slow down the oh-so-shifty Thunder star, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but to no avail. Here, DeAndre’ Bembry tries to hedge the pick-and-roll but is late, giving Shai the avenue to split the defense for the advanced finish through contact.

Here, the Nets once again hedge this Thunder pick-and-roll but face a different dilemma. Blake Griffin is on time when “showing,” great! Yet he hangs onto his hedge for a beat (or seven) too long, and Mamadi Diakite waltzes down the open floor for the dunk. It doesn’t help that Cam Thomas, the “low man” responsible for covering for mistakes from the weakside of the floor, fails to rotate over and bottle up the roller.

Even when the Nets chose to trap the shifty SGA, things didn’t go as planned. Below, Gilgeous-Alexander is able to break free from Paul Millsap and Jevon Carter’s blitz to scan the floor, and Cam Thomas completely loses Darius Bazley along with the dunker spot. In fact, Cam’s just completely out of position in the first place. For as good as he was offensively, this was not a sharp defensive game for the rook.

It’s easy to attribute the loss to shooting variance, sure, but Brooklyn doesn’t give itself much breathing room when being this careless with the details.

Milestone Watch

Taking a different tack tonight. Here’s the summary of the Nets still incomplete road warrior test.

—Four games in five days through Thursday. By Saturday, it’ll be five in seven.

—Two wins, two losses.

—Two back-to-backs within five days, one ending in a cross-country trip and another with only 12 hours between arrival at home and game time.

—5,800 miles travel in four days or an average of more than 1,100 a day.

—Three time zones in four days.

—Went from scoring 138 one night to giving up 130 in the next.

—And after Saturday, 22 of the next 30 days on the road.

Yeah, it’s draining.

“it’s been crazy just because of the COVID,” said James Harden. “So instead of having two days in between Chicago, we had to fly all the way out to Portland, then come back to Chicago. Then played tonight shorthanded. It’s just a lot. Today was definitely a little frustrating because we wanted to win and we played so well last night, so we wanted to kind of have some kind of carryover, but it just didn’t happen. We got in pretty, pretty early, I should say 5 in the morning.

“I ain’t even get to bed until 7:30 and then woke up early. So it was just crazy. But we tried, man.”

Day’Ron Sharpe, who’s 13 years younger than Harden, agreed, but for him, there’s a compensating balance.

“It’s definitely something I’ve never done before. We had a game against San Antonio, travel to Portland. six-hour flight, play there. Then play Chicago and get back at 5 in the morning, got a game today,” said Sharpe. “It’s something I ain’t never done before. But I told you, man. They tell me I get to play. I could travel all day if I get to play, so it doesn’t matter to me! And if we win games, obviously.”

One year of James Harden in the books

Thursday was the first anniversary of James Harden joining the Nets in the blockbuster, four-team deal that shook up the NBA. So how’s he doing? Here’s the basic breakdown...

—71 games, all but one a start;

—23.6 points per game, only 1.4 below his career average;

—Shooting splits of 45/35/86 with the Nets, again in line with career averages of 44/36/86.

—Much better assist and rebounding numbers in Brooklyn. With the Nets, Harden is averaging 10.4 assists and 7.4 boards, a lot better than his career numbers of 6.7 and 5.6. His free throw attempts, a point of contention earlier this season, have changed a bit. With Brooklyn, he’s averaging 7.7 per game. For his career, he’s averaged one more, 8.7.

—As a Net, he’s had 19 triple doubles in 71 games — 12 last year and seven so far this one. That’s an average of roughly one every three and a half games. In his previous roles with OKC and the Rockets, he had 44 in 841 games, one in almost 20 games. Big difference.

So, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of his death on the court have been greatly exaggerated. And one other thing, the Harden trade was the beginning of a series of transactions that pushed the Nets luxury tax bill way up. Before the trade, the Nets were at $23 million in taxes, then afterwards, it grew to $84 million. Now? It’s up to $110 million.

David Duke Jr. shooting better

Coming out of Providence, David Duke Jr. was known for his defense and 3-point shooting as well as a knack for rebounding, a perfect combination for a swingman. While the defense and rebounding has been evident early on, his 3-point shooting has been, well, woeful. He shot 11.1 percent (not a typo) in Summer League and seemed shy in both preseason (1-of-2 in two games) and G League (2-of-4) in one game. And until this week, he was again shooting 11.1 percent (2-of 18) for the season.

Then, in the last three games, for whatever reason (is that you Kyle Korver?), things have turned around. After shooting 1-of-2 in both the Blazers and Bulls games, he was a perfect 3-of-3 from deep vs. the Thunder. That’s 5-of-6 in three games (83.3 percent for the math-challenged. Admittedly it’s a small sample, but a good, confidence-building run for the 22-year-old who in his last two years at Providence, shot 38.9 and 40.1 percent. If he can keep it up, it’d be a big deal for him and Brooklyn ... and further justification for the Nets decision to have signed him as a two-way.

What’s next

LA Clippers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

The Nets will return to play on Saturday when the team hosts the New Orleans Pelicans at Barclays Center. The game is scheduled to tip at 7:30 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective on Thursday night’s game, check out Welcome to Loud City — our sister site covering the Thunder.