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3 Takeaways from Brooklyn Nets Bounce Back Win vs Oklahoma City Thunder

In a weird game, the Nets went up by 32, then had to scramble at the end to preserve the last vestiges of that lead.

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

We are so back. Well — not really — but the Brooklyn Nets did end their losing streak last night, beating the Oklahoma City Thunder by a 124-115 final score.

After weeks of bad mojo, the Nets enjoyed a dream first half to even it all out in a flash. They took a 75-47 lead into intermission, making it their largest scoring output in an opening half all season. Crazy what happens when a team doesn’t shoot historic percentages from deep.

The Thunder battled back to make Brooklyn sweat down the stretch, but Nic Claxton, Dennis Smith Jr., and company clutched up. When the dust had settled, the Nets walked away with perhaps their best, and if not, their most needed dub of the season. Here’s what we learned.

Fluidity is Key on Defense

The switch struck back for Brooklyn last night in a way we’ve yet to see this year. With the Nets previously keeping Claxton in the paint and over-helping in the gap, opponents were getting open threes like handouts in the street. Milwaukee, Washington, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, and Houston collectively shot 45.5% from deep, good for the second best mark in the league during the losing streak.

Those results left the team with no choice but to go back to the drawing board — even one dating back to last year.

In an attempt to better contest shots, Brooklyn implemented the switch almost from the jump last night. It worked to say the least, as the Nets held the Thunder to a 29% clip from deep. This warrants a major round of applause, as Oklahoma City remains the league’s top 3-point shooting team, shooting it at 39.4% for the year.

But while this was the right chess move for the Nets, it was also a rather obvious one if you did your pregame homework on the Thunder.

Brooklyn started playing the drop this year to cure the rebounding plague that had been killing them for years. But Oklahoma City already resembles one of the league’s worst units on the glass, ranking second to last in rebound percentage. Playing the drop would have been a waste of resources, whereas the switch directly combats what OKC excels in (shooting).

The point is, Brooklyn needs to remain fluid on defense above all else. They threw a variety of looks at the Thunder, even some drop coverage at times and a variety of blitzes. The coaching staff needs to continue to stay on its toes, recognize the different strengths and weaknesses their opponents posses and attack them with some aggressiveness like they did last night.

About Nic Claxton’s Motor...

You take one look at a guy like Nic Claxton and you just know he was born to be a switchable big. He enjoyed a career year last season with the Nets almost exclusively playing the switch. He also just enjoyed his best game in a long time with the Nets returning to that defensive strategy. Oh, and he pretty much admitted that it’s his preference to play that way postgame as well.

With his speed, length, and athleticism, the production from Claxton when going this route makes all the sense in the world. But what the switch unlocks for him might go beyond just his basketball skillset.

Last night, the fifth year big looked engaged on all levels. He ran the floor like a madman, out-hustled OKC defenders, including Thunder wunderkind Chet Holmgren, for boards, and showed a willingness to absorb contact and attack the basket.

Now, none of those things have anything to do with switching on screens, but it’s my guess after last night that Claxton playing this preferred brand of defense helps get himself going in all aspects of the game.

We’ve seen him pound his chest after dunks and stare down his opponents after blocking shots. He’s clearly an emotional player who feeds off his own ability to make plays, hyping himself up to get the best out of himself. With the switch enabling Claxton to play his best on defense and then have everything else unfold for him, the Nets might want to go to it more often especially if the team needs some juice on any given night.

If my theory is correct, the trickle down affect could be gigantic, as the involved and engaged Claxton we saw last night also helped generate more looks from three via his inside pressure, spur transition opportunities, and in the end beat a top five team in the league.

Still Juggling Injuries

Last night’s victory came with a variety of positives and negatives in the injury department — once more making it clear that things are never simple with this team.

Lonnie Walker returned, but you wouldn’t say he’s “back.” The budding Sixth Man of the Year candidate missed 17 straight games with a hamstring injury, but logged on six minutes last night, though it was noted he’d be on a minutes restriction pregame.

He missed his two shots but pulled in a rebound and steal. While we did not get long look at him, he seemed to move well and looks primed for more action on Sunday. But on the contrary, some concern may follow Cam Thomas and Cam Johnson into tomorrow’s matinee.

After reminding us that he’s only human earlier this week, Thomas was on cue looking like superman the game’s first half. He started the game with 16 points in 12 minutes on 6-9 shooting. However, ill advised steps proved to be his kryptonite again, as he stepped on Chet Holmgren’s foot in the second frame, twisting his ankle the same way he did vs the Los Angeles Clippers in November.

Thomas hobbled off the court but later returned to finish out the contest. However, the injury clearly impacted him, as he went 0-of-5 from the field after. With how cautious the Nets are with injuries, you have to trust its something minor given that they allowed him to return to the floor. But at the same time, these things often swell up over night. He’ll be a name to keep out on tomorrow’s injury report.

Johnson experienced muscle cramps toward the end of the night. This occurred for a number of games early in the season, but last night it was up front and in your face as Johnson needed to be stretched out on the floor during the game’s closing seconds.

Keep in mind that I’m typing this from couch right now after scarfing down a bacon egg and cheese, but with this now being a reoccurring thing for Cam, his conditioning needs to be improved. He just signed a $90 Million contract. Chug some water!