OKLAHOMA CITY — After leading fourth-quarter comebacks in the Nets’ previous two wins, it was impossible not to wonder if three would be a charm for Spencer Dinwiddie and a team in search of its first three-game winning streak of the season. Sure enough, Dinwiddie made a driving layup for a one-point lead over the Thunder with 7.8 seconds left Tuesday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
But reigning MVP Russell Westbrook responded with a driving layup at the other end after Dinwiddie was taken out of the play on a hit by Paul George with 3.3 seconds left. Nets coach Kenny Atkinson again put the ball in Dinwiddie’s hands at the end, but he missed a contested three-pointer at the buzzer in a 109-108 loss.
“It was a heck of a play by Westbrook at the rim,” Atkinson said of the winning basket. “There was a collision between Paul George and I think it was Spencer. That kind of turned Westbrook to the rim, and we were a little late getting to him.”
Dinwiddie was reluctant to get into specifics about the play after complaining about a lack of respect from officials recently and getting pushback. “I stopped talking about stuff like that [uncalled fouls] two weeks ago,” Dinwiddie said. “Russ drove, he made a hell of a shot over Jarrett. I wasn’t in the play, unfortunately. Great play call design.”
But when pressed about Atkinson’s “collision” comment, Dinwiddie described the play in football terms. “You know how, in the NFL, they say receivers can’t cross and hit the defender out of nowhere?” Dinwiddie asked. “I think it was a very similar situation to that. [George] kind of ran and I was running after Westbrook, and then, I just hit something and almost fell. I’ve got to get stronger.”
Asked if it was akin to a blindside hit, Dinwiddie smiled and said, “Yeah, and then, if I run him over, it’s probably a foul on me. It’s like that’s Russell Westbrook and that’s Paul George, and I’m Spencer Dinwiddie.”
Joe Harris led six Nets in double figures with 19 points, including a 5-for-5 effort from three-point range, and Dinwiddie and DeMarre Carroll each had 13. But the Nets (18-30) blew a 15-point third-quarter lead in a game in which the lead changed hands 20 times.
Westbrook topped the Thunder with 32 points, Paul George totaled 28, and they got 14 points off the bench from former Knick Raymond Felton, including 10 straight at the start of the fourth quarter when the Thunder cut their deficit to five points with big guns Westbrook, George and Carmel Anthony (10 points) on the bench.
“Up to that point, we had done a good job of imposing ourselves defensively, making stuff tough on them,” Harris said. “They kind of got room-and-rhythm looks, whether it was Felton with pull-up jumpers, Westbrook getting downhill or Paul George making plays. We didn’t do a good enough job of keeping up with what we had established through the first three quarters.”
After the Thunder rallied from 15 down to within three in the third quarter, it was the Nets’ second unit that pushed the lead back to 11 at the end of the period. But they were victimized in the fourth quarter by Felton’s hot start.
“That’s on the second unit for sure,” Harris said. “We had established a good lead at the end of the third quarter, and it was our job to keep it there until the first unit comes back in.”
Dinwiddie was philosophical about absorbing another tough loss against a top team. “It’s just like the last [win over Detroit] where we talked about growth and finding a way to close it out,” he said. “We were one shot short this time.”