Nets guard Lonnie Walker IV shoots to score a three-point...

Nets guard Lonnie Walker IV shoots to score a three-point basket over Clippers guard James Harden in the second half of an NBA basketball game at Barclays Center on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Nets knew their first 10 games on the schedule would be a gauntlet. It’s now led to attrition. With Ben Simmons ruled out two hours before tip-off Wednesday, the Nets were down three starters. Things got worse in the third quarter as Cam Thomas limped off the court and into the locker room.

Thomas didn’t return because of a sprained ankle yet the Nets once again found success with their depth. That plus greater effort on defense helped them pulled out a 100-93 victory over the Clippers for their first win at Barclays Center this season.

It was another makeshift lineup that pushed the Nets (4-4) ahead in the fourth. Day’Ron Sharpe, Dennis Smith Jr., Royce O’Neale, Lonnie Walker IV and Trendon Watford spurred a 9-2 run to push the lead to 10 after Sharpe’s layup made it 89-79.

Sharpe had nine of his 11 points. Watford added a pair of steals in the fourth. With 2:38 left and the Nets up four, O’Neale had two offensive rebounds on consecutive misses to keep the Nets’ possession alive, a possession that ended with a Mikal Bridges putback dunk to make it 94-88. “It was devastating to see one of us go down. But I think we just all, the collective group, just came and stepped up,” said Sharpe, who had 10 rebounds.

“Lonnie stepped up for us. Dennis stepped up. You know, T-Wat stepped up for us. I feel like our bench is deep, so [if] guys go down, we’ve got guys who can step in and can still contribute to help us win.”

The effort was needed in a slower-paced game without Simmons. The Nets only had 14 fast break points yet had season-highs in both offensive rebounds (14) and blocks (10). The bench, led by Walker’s 21 points, also outscored the Clippers 45-17.

Despite entering last in the NBA in turnovers forced per game, the Nets forced 16 while holding the Clippers (3-4) to 22 fourth-quarter points. In the fourth, they forced seven turnovers, six coming on steals.

“They just reacted. They just did it,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “Didn’t worry about if it was going to be a mistake, and that’s what you get to if you’re going to create turnovers. There’s a level of risk that you have to take.”

The win spoiled the Clippers’ second game with their new-look lineup featuring James Harden. Harden, who debuted Monday after being traded by the 76ers, was booed by fans throughout the game and had 12 points, five assists and eight rebounds.

The boos turned to worries when Thomas went down with 8:33 in the third quarter. He was driving to the basket and stepped on PJ Tucker’s foot, turning his left ankle outward.

He finished with 14 points and Vaughn said he’ll get an MRI Thursday. Thomas didn’t speak to reporters postgame but was seen on a scooter with his ankle heavily wrapped.

In his absence, the Nets found balance. O’Neale had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Dorian Finney-Smith added 12 points and nine rebounds. Watford, who practiced in the G-League earlier Wednesday, had nine points, five rebounds and three steals.

“We just got a lot of dogs that are ready to play. They all play with a chip on their shoulder and they got something to prove,” Walker said. “So I think alongside with the chemistry, you just got a lot of guys that are putting in 110% effort day in and day out.”

It helped offset a night where the Nets scored just 13 points in the first quarter and Bridges had just 10 points while adding eight rebounds and a season-high seven assists.

The Nets have had their share of close games this season, but also had to manage multiple starters being hurt. As they hoped for good news on Thomas, they took solace finding another way to win shorthanded. “One person goes down, somebody else steps up,” O’Neale said. “I think that versatility and having those lineups in preseason helps us out. Knowing how guys play in certain situations and everybody being able to play off of each other.”

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