clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Nets host the Thunder before hitting the road

Oklahoma City Thunder v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Still got some work to do. In their first game without Kevin Durant for a while, the Brooklyn Nets faced a tall, tall task against the league leading Boston Celtics. In a national TV showcase at Barclays Center, Brooklyn played hard and put up a fight throughout the game. However, the C’s proved to be too much and beat the Nets again, 109-98. The Nets losing streak to Boston is now at nine, counting last April’s sweep in the first round of the playoffs.

The opponent tonight is an incredibly intriguing one. The Oklahoma City Thunder are building a foundation that will last them for years. They weren’t expected to do much, but currently find themselves knocking on the door of a play-in/playoff spot. They inched one step closer after beating the Chicago Bulls on the road Friday night. More on that play-in bit below.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN on radio. Tip after 6:00 p.m. ET. It’s MLK Day at Barclays Center.


No Kevin Durant. Dru Smith, the Nets new two-way, will be available. He debuted with Long Island Saturday night, scoring 13 points while registering 13 points, six assists and three steals. He will near No. 9.

Aleksej Pokusevski is out due to a non-displaced tibial plateau fracture in his left leg. Chet Holmgren is not playing this season due to a Lisfranc injury in his right foot that he picked up while playing in a Seattle pro-am over the summer.

The game

So the Thunder are in a pretty interesting spot. Victor Wembanyama is awaiting the winner of the NBA Draft lottery and Scoot Henderson is right there after him at the second pick. Teams around the league have been positioning themselves to get to the top of the Draft. The Thunder have been rebuilding for some time, and the expectation was they’d put themselves in that category as well. However, thanks to some strong play and a surprisingly weak Western Conference, the team has a chance to sneak in to the playoffs and surprise some folks. In a great story at Welcome to Loud City, J.D. Tailor wrote about the labor and team implications of the Thunder’s situation and closed with:

Memphis making the playoffs with their young roster in 2021 boosted the confidence and chemistry of their group. Tough, competitive series build bonds between teammates and provide players with peace of mind when it mattered most. Oklahoma City can do what Memphis did two years, this is an excellent opportunity that should not be wasted.

I tend to agree. Playing in competitive, high stakes games will do wonders for the players in the short and long term as well as give fans an opportunity to stay engaged with the team outside of transactional stuff. Put a good product on the floor, put the players in a position to succeed, and everything else will take care of itself.

The Thunder have so many talented youngsters, and Josh Giddey is one player to watch. Giddey has had a quality sophomore season and is getting better at initiating the offense. He’s cut down on the turnovers and is getting to the basket a lot more this season.

Rebounding has been a bugaboo for the Nets all season, and the C’s took full advantage, winning the rebound matchup by 17. Without KD to clean that up, the margin for error for Brooklyn has shrunk significantly. The Nets will need to do a good job collectively on the boards so they can control the pace of the game. OKC plays incredibly fast ball (3rd in pace) so everybody will be on the run tonight. As it happens, this OKC’s fourth game in six days, third in four days, and last leg of a four game road trip. Teams sometimes take their foot off the gas pedal the last night of a road trip, so we’ll watch for that tonight.

The Thunder lead the NBA in shots inside the restricted area (32.9 per game), but are dead last in efficiency there (61.9 percent from the field). They’ll face a tall task trying to finish over Nic Claxton at the rim tonight. Clax had another banner game on Thursday with nine points, nine rebounds, and four blocks in 32 minutes. Claxton is one of the game’s best rim protectors and will make OKC think twice about attacking the basket. If Brooklyn can keep them on the perimeter, it’ll force them into tougher jump shots and help slow the Thunder.

The duo of Joe Harris and TJ Warren stepped up admirably to fill Kevin Durant’s shoes on Thursday. Harris started and made four three pointers while Warren came off the bench with 20 points and two three pointers of his own. It’ll take a team approach and if Harris in particular is able to keep the heat on from deep, it’ll help the Nets maintain their dynamism while KD heals. Jacque Vaughn wants the team to take more threes while Durant is out, and Harris should let it fly as much as possible.

Kyrie Irving will look to bounce back from a rough game. Irving went 9-24 from the field (3-11 from deep) as the Celtics swarmed him and made everything tough for the Nets star. Irving will even more of the opponent’s attention for a while and the team will have to figure out how to make life a little easier in the meantime.

Player to watch: Shai Gilgeous Alexander

Welcome to the future. SGA has steadily improved each year he’s been in the NBA and is on the way to a well deserved All Star nomination. Shai is fourth in the NBA in scoring, averaging a career best 30.7 points a game on .504/.352/.913 shooting splits. Not to be outdone, he contributes across the board with close to six assists, five rebounds, one block, and one steal a night. Every good team needs a player who can get their own shot when the situation calls for it, and SGA does it in droves for this Thunder club:

Shai has become one of the NBA’s best isolation and mid-range operators, a walking bucket who has the ability to contribute in other areas of the game even when he has an off night. It is a rare occurrence but Gilgeous-Alexander adds value for the Thunder all over the court.

Rookie head coach, Mark Daigneault, spoke about SGA’s growth and what the team expects of him recently:

At just 24 years old, Gilgeous-Alexander is on track to get even better from here. The future is incredibly bright for the Thunder, and SGA is the right guy to lead them into the next generation.

So, Ben Simmons? The great thing about his game on Thursday was his season high 13 assists (to only two turnovers) and nine rebounds. When Simmons got the ball, he helped push the pace and set his teammates up for easy baskets with some excellent passes. However, he only took three field goal attempts and ended the night with zero points. There was one play in particular where he didn’t take it to a backpedaling Luke Kornet and turned it over when he tried to feed Nic Claxton. When it comes to his offensive aggression and willingness to shoot, it might help to take some advice from Marshawn Lynch

It won’t hurt!

There was one other red flag from Thursday’s game, as Steve Lichtenstein pointed out in his newsletter:

If Harland and Miller were looking for an area of criticism, it was Simmons’ incessant fouling, an issue that has plagued his integration into his new team all season. Only four other players in the league with at least 700 minutes of court time have averaged more than Simmons’ 4.6 fouls per 36 minutes. Of Simmons’ five fouls committed against the Celtics, I can’t recall one that was on a good contest to prevent an easy bucket—they all seemed to be ticky-tack reaches or unnecessary bumps.

Simmons sometimes gambles a bit too much, and it leads to his teammates getting burned as a result (Just ask Joe Harris). The Nets need him on the court as much as possible, and that starts with him playing within himself and not making bad gambles on defense. Play with force, play with purpose, and watch the results follow. To borrow from his old friends, trust the process!

From the Vault

Monday is Martin Luther King Jr Day. With that in mind, let’s watch a speech Dr. King gave to students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia in 1967.

Also, watch Coretta Scott King’s speech at Resurrection City as part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968.

More reading: Welcome to Loud City