MEXICO CITY – The same problems that bogged down the Thunder on offense were the ones that propelled the Brooklyn Nets.
On Thursday night south of the border, the difference in the game was that the team that got downhill to the rim controlled the game. Ultimately, the Nets were the aggressors for longer, and in the fourth quarter, and it caused a 100-95 loss for the Thunder.
In the first quarter, the paint was the Thunder’s domain, as it built up a 16-point lead and scored 33 points behind an attacking mindset. The tone was set by Russell Westbrook, who went to the free throw line 5 times in the opening frame while scoring 8 of his 31 total points in the first 8:20 of his night.
The game started to turn midway through the second quarter, when the Thunder got loose on defense and a few breakdowns resulted in wide open straight-line drives to the bucket for Brooklyn. After holding the Nets to just 4 points in the paint in the first quarter, the Thunder gave up 16 in the second period alone. Brooklyn began to play freely from there on out, fueled with the confidence of seeing some easy baskets go in.
“We stopped doing things we did in the first quarter on both ends of the floor,” guard Andre Roberson said. “Defense, moving the ball on the offensive end, staying in our coverage and committing to our coverage on the defensive end.”
“They started getting the ball downhill,” Head Coach Billy Donovan stated. “They got us in rotations and inevitably it led to drives and we were late on help.”
On the other end of the floor it was just the opposite. The Thunder attempted 12 non-paint two-point jumpers in the first half, and ended up with a whopping 32 of them for the game. Despite making six of those 12 in the opening 24 minutes, it was unsustainable offense, which is why the Thunder’s 50 percent shooting at halftime dwindled down to just 38.8 percent by the end of the game.
“Everybody’s games comes down to the wire. You just have to know that and continue to grind it out,” Roberson noted. “We can’t shoot dagger shots. We have to stay consistent in moving the ball around and making them work a little bit.”
“We kind of lost our pace a little bit in that second half and they played the same way the whole game. They kept their pace up,” forward Carmelo Anthony explained. “It was a matter of us playing with that same pace we played in the first half in the second half.”
The Thunder’s double-digit point lead was whittled down through the second and third quarters until a breath of fresh air recharged the team to end the third. A star-less lineup of Raymond Felton, Terrance Ferguson, Kyle Singler, Patrick Patterson and Nick Collison helped steady the ship late in the period, building the Thunder’s lead back up to 8 just before the quarter closed. Felton scored 7 straight points to end the third and Singler chipped in 9 points for the game, taking advantage of his first extended minutes of the regular season.
In the fourth quarter, however, those positive vibes waned for the Thunder and the rhythm from getting layups and open three-pointers earlier in the night helped power a decisive Nets run midway through the quarter. Brooklyn ripped off three-straight three-pointers during a stretch where the Thunder’s 1-point lead turned into an 8-point deficit. Oklahoma City never got closer than 3 points the rest of the way, as jumpers didn’t fall and Brooklyn kept the scoreboard moving by getting layups and free throws.
The Thunder knows it has some work to do before it takes on the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday, but the team will spend another 12 hours in Mexico City before heading back stateside. Despite the loss, it was a positive experience for the Thunder to take in the Mexican culture and help grow the game in the United States’ neighbor to the south.
“The fans were incredible tonight. Just the support that they have for not only myself, not only for Russell, but for the Thunder and the Nets and the NBA as a whole,” Anthony said. “I thought the fans were definitely in tune to the game. They were excited about it. They cheered. They were into it.”
By the Numbers
12-for-23 – Free throw shooting numbers for the Thunder on the night, after getting to the free throw line 15 times in the first half
25 – Combined rebounds for Steven Adams and Carmelo Anthony for the game, both of whom ended up with double-doubles
45 – Bench points for the Nets on the night, as the group shot 14-for-30 from the field and 12-of-15 from the free throw line
The Last Word
“If you look at our possessions, they were really, really good when we got downhill, but when we didn’t get downhill, we struggled. There were a lot of possessions where we were unable to get downhill into the paint to draw some help to make those extra passes.” – Head Coach Billy Donovan