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Brooklyn Nets dominate first half, hold on defeat Oklahoma City Thunder, 124-115

The Nets played one of their best halves of the season, a cathartic blowout of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Brooklyn almost blew it in the second half, but hey, a win is a win.

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

The Brooklyn Nets were wandering through the winless desert, praying the Barclays Center would be an oasis on a Friday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder. A four-game road trip that turned up nothing but losses — two of which were downright pathetic, the other two decent performances crippled by poor shooting — brought Brooklyn’s losing streak to five, and their record to 15-20.

The vibes of a strong start to the season, capped by a signature win over the Phoenix Suns to bring their record to 13-10, are long gone. Since then, the Nets are 2-10, only defeating the historically bad Detroit Pistons a couple of times. Head Coach Jacque Vaughn made a lineup change and sent Cam Thomas to the bench, to the dismay of many fans. The organization was fined $100,000 for resting seven players in a blatant punt game against the Milwaukee Bucks, a move that didn’t even work, as Brooklyn lost their next outing to the Washington Wizards.

Yeah, it’s been bad.

Despite all that, Vaughn maintained a positive tone in his pregame comments. The Nets may have lost by 16 points to OKC just a week ago, but it wasn’t all bad, according to the head coach: “You know, I thought our process was right. And that’s a big thing I’ve been just re-emphasizing to our group, is that I’ve really tested them on, everyday, just trying to get better, and we have gotten better as a team. That doesn’t always result in wins and losses in your favor, but our process has been correct.”

Final score: Brooklyn Nets 124, Oklahoma City 115.

Brooklyn’s recent stretch of poor play wasn’t just bad on its own; it also landed at the worst possible time. Lonnie Walker IV’s absence extended to 17 straight games, and Dennis Smith Jr. toggled in and out of availability with back injuries. Further, over the 2-10 stretch, Brooklyn’s opponents made 42% of their threes while the Nets made just 32.5% of theirs . That’s greater than the difference between the best shooting team in the NBA and the worst, meaning that even when Brooklyn took care of the little things, as they did in their first performance against OKC, plain ol’ shot-making killed them.

Well, all of that changed in Friday night’s first half, as the basketball gods dumped a month’s worth of fortunes on the Nets in 24 minutes.

Lonnie Walker IV and Dennis Smith Jr. were both available for the first time since November, and while Walker was still wetting his feet in a scoreless first half, Smith Jr. was everywhere, and finished the game with 13/12/7 and two steals:

Vaughn applauded each guard’s return, but praised Smith Jr. specifically, citing “his ability to guard defensively, made shots tonight for us, drive the basketball. Overall, just his spirit for our group is so huge.”

Elsewhere, the Nets lit it up from three, shooting 10-of-21 compared to a ghastly 2-of-15 from the visiting Thunder who missed their first 11 shots from deep. Nice to be on the other side of it for once, eh?

As a result, Brooklyn took a monster 75-47 lead into the break. Friday night may have featured their best half of play all season, against the Western Conference’s two-seed, no less. But the Nets didn’t just stumble into a tremendous start proving that luck is indeed the residue of design.

In his halftime interview with Chris Shearn of YES Network, Smith Jr. said, “starters did a great job, they came out and executed on both ends. Made it a lot easier for my unit to come in and [perform],” also crediting a “game plan, discipline, great scout by Kevin Ollie.”

Brooklyn mixed up coverages constantly against OKC’s stable of talented guards, but one constant remained whether they were switching, blitzing, hedging, or dropping: activity. The Nets forced eight turnovers in the half and plenty more deflections, their defense comprising the tornado of limbs we expected when the roster was put together:

“I give them complete credit for being able to change coverages on the fly, of seeing the situation, seeing the threat, and trying to eliminate the threat,” said Vaughn in postgame. “And so tonight, like you said, we literally threw everything at Shai to keep him off balance. And really, we talked about that in the huddles that we’re gonna continue to do it, and I gave them credit for being able to execute.

Not only did Brooklyn win the transition-points battle 11-to-4, but their activity extended to the glass, where they dominated the second-chance-points battle 17-to-0. While every Net who touched the floor brought the requisite energy, it really started with Nic Claxton. He dominated the battle of lanky centers against Chet Holmgren, ultimately finishing with 23 and 13 boards, bringing top-shelf energy all night:

Clax also had his longest stints of the season to date, playing the first nine-and-a-half minutes of the first and third quarters, making his repeated efforts all the more impressive.

Said Claxton: “I’m in better shape now than I was last year. And over that last road stretch, I was dealing with a cold. I wasn’t really feeling that good. Tonight I was just feeling more like myself. My energy was in the right place.”

The second-most impressive Net of the half had to be Cam Thomas, who got off his 0-for-20 schneid in a major way, scoring 16 of his 19 points before the break. Other than a couple ball-pounding possessions, Thomas played within the flow of the offense, largely taking catch-and-shoot jumpers, even flying off handoffs to pull from behind the arc:

“Cam Thomas is young, he’s he’s figuring it out on the fly,” said Claxton of his third-year teammate. “Defenses are looking differently, they’re starting to pay a lot more attention to him, so he’s he’s figuring it out. He’s finding his spots, tonight he knocked down shots.”

However, Thomas did tweak his ankle late in the second quarter, and while it didn’t sideline him for the night, these things do tend to swell up overnight. It’ll certainly be something to keep an eye on for the third-year guard.

OKC came out with a with a renewed energy in the third quarter, perhaps as a response to Mark Daigneault running a rare all-bench lineup before halftime. The Thunder Head Coach was not happy with his guys, and he let them know it.

Yet, even with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander forcing the issue on his way to a game-high 34 points, even diving on the floor for loose balls, OKC couldn’t make an indent just yet. In fact, Brooklyn raced out to a game-high 32-point lead midway through the third. Role players like Cam Johnson and Dorian Finney-Smith kept up the the pace from three, and the Nets as whole solved their free-throw shooting on the night (28-of-33), but the true stabilizer was Spencer Dinwiddie.

The 30-year-old guard threw a month’s worth of passivity in the trash, not only hitting three triples on the night but repeatedly getting to the rim on his way to 23 points, which tied Claxton for a team-high:

But of course, we weren’t going to get 48 minutes of relaxation. These are the Nets, after all.

Gilgeous-Alexander checked out of the game, but OKC didn’t wave a white flag. Instead, a bench-heavy lineup led by Jalen Williams, Cason Wallace, and Vasilije Micic finally started to hit some threes as Brooklyn’s offense went cold. Josh Giddey then checked in in the fourth quarter and got to the rim repeatedly, finishing with 13 points.

The Nets lead dwindled to 20, then 17, and finally 12 when SGA returned for one final push. While OKC hit shots, Brooklyn nearly collapsed under the fear of blowing such a huge lead in embarrassing fashion. They started rolling the ball out after made baskets with nine minutes left, waiting for the clock to hit zero like they watching a pot boil.

Said Smith Jr: “We got comfortable, and then — this is was what I was trying to tell them at halftime: We can’t get bored making the right play. It sounds stupid, but it’s a real thing. We started getting comfortable, all the things that were working in the first half we’re like, ‘alright, instead of swinging it to get the shot, to drive-and-kick, I’m just gonna shoot it anyways.’

Johnson missed every shot he took in the fourth quarter, bricking potential daggers to finish with just nine points on 3-of-15 shooting. Bridges didn’t fare much better, shooting 5-of-13 with four turnovers. Thomas, perhaps hobbled by the ankle, was invisible. An overwhelming sense of dread plagued the hosts until the bitter end.

And yet, the Nets bulldozed through. Claxton tipped out missed shot after missed shot, while added a huge put-back for Brooklyn’s final field goal of the night, all on the way to a massive 20-to-7 edge in offensive rebounds.

The end of the game was a horrro-show, between awful bleed-the-clock offense, poor late-game inbounding, and Cam Johnson going down with yet another bout of cramping, which Vaughn confirmed after the game.

Presuming Johnson bounces back and Vaughn said the ‘first prognosis was cramping,” it all can be forgiven and forgotten given that it ended with a sweet, sweet win. Brooklyn won, and everybody can take a deep breath, at least for now.

“I think we really went into this game believing we were going to win,” said Jacque Vaughn. Whether you believe Vaughn’s proclamation of faith or not, the Nets certainly played like it in a first half that decided the game.

Nic Claxton’s assessment was much simpler, and a sentiment shared by all Nets fans: “We definitely need this, man.”

Milestone Watch

A cheerful edition of the milestone watch, with a healthy mix of team and individual accomplishments.

  • Dennis Smith Jr.’s 12 rebounds are a season-high, and his six offensive boards are a career-high. Not bad for a 6’2” guard.
  • Nic Claxton’s 23 points mark a season-high for him, as well as his third 20/10 game of the season. He had just four such games all of last year.
  • Claxton has now recorded six double-doubles in his last eight games, and became the first Net to ever record four straight against the Seattle/OKC franchise.
  • Brooklyn’s first half wasn’t just cathartic, it was record-setting. 75 points marks Brooklyn’s highest-scoring half of the season, and their 28-point halftime lead was their largest as well.

YES, MSG Networks announce joint venture

The home of Brooklyn Nets television coverage could be changing or at least, undergoing a major face-lift. Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reported on Thursday that “YES and MSG Networks are partnering on a new venture that eventually could lead to a direct-to-consumer streaming service that offers the Yankees, Knicks, Rangers, Nets, Devils and Islanders on one platform.

Marchand continued: “The two sides are not there just yet, but announced on Thursday the creation of Gotham Advanced Media and Entertainment [GAME], which is a 50/50 venture between the two networks ‘to capitalize on technical and operational synergies associated with YES’ and MSGN’s streaming services,’ according to a release distributed by the two networks.”

Nothing is imminent, as Marchand notes, but “the partnership could be a further bridge to cutting the cable cord if Gotham eventually puts all of its teams on one service.”

A trademark attorney found that the two networks have sought protection for two names associated with the joint operation...

Should Gotham/GAME — or whateverultimately release a singular streaming service, the New York Mets would be the only local team (excluding NFL franchises) not housed by the service.

Next Up

Portland Trail Blazers v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images

The Nets play one more game at home before departing for Paris, where they’ll play just one game in a week’s time, perhaps a much-needed soft spot in the schedule. Before we look too far ahead, though, Brooklyn’s next challenge will be against the Portland Trail Blazers after a day off.

We have an afternoon tip-off, scheduled for 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday.