Nets let Thunder back in game but finish strong to complete 5-1 road trip
Two nights after blowing a 21-point third-quarter lead in New Orleans, the Nets built a 20-point lead early in the fourth quarter only to see the Thunder cut their deficit to 10 points. But Kevin Durant and Patty Mills, who totaled 62 points between them, teamed up for a strong finish to give the Nets a 120-96 victory Sunday night at Paycom Center in Oklahoma City.
The Nets (10-4) completed their six-game road trip with a 5-1 record and snapped a four-game winning streak by the Thunder (5-7) in the process. They also moved into a virtual tie for first place in the Eastern Conference with the Wizards (9-3).
Asked if the Nets’ climb in the standings was a reflection of their attention to detail on the road trip, coach Steve Nash said, "I think that’s spot-on. We have to play together on both ends. We have to be an underdog defensively every night . . . and offensively trying to form an identity by playing fast, getting to the second side when they take away our action. I think guys feel positive about how they’re playing and the direction they’re going in, so we’ve just got to keep building."
With the Nets holding a 94-74 lead, the Thunder put together a 17-7 run that included eight points from Ty Jerome, whose three-pointer made it a 10-point game with 5:46 left to play. But for the second straight game, the Nets had a strong finishing kick with a 12-2 run that included six points apiece from Durant and Mills to restore a 20-point lead at 113-93 with 2:48 remaining on their way to a 24-point blowout.
Durant scored 33 points, Mills provided a 29-point lift off the bench, including 9-for-12 three-point shooting, James Harden totaled 16 points and 13 assists, and LaMarcus Aldridge added 15. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander paced the Thunder with 23 points and Luguentz Dort added 20, but the Nets held them to 40.0% shooting.
Except for getting blown out in the fourth quarter of their loss in Chicago by a 42-17 margin, the Nets can look back on a great trip.
"We’re coming together, and it feels good," Harden said. "It feels more fluent. It feels like it should. Honestly, we’ve got a long ways to go and we’re still building on it, but it’s just a confidence and kind of knowing each other a little bit more that is helping us a lot.
"We’ve experienced a little adversity, and then we’ve experienced being away from home and having to fight through and grind out different games and go on different runs and teams coming back against us and knowing how to get a good shot and get three stops in a row and win games. There have been a lot of things we’ve had to go through for this road trip. So it was a good test for us."
The game had some historic significance to Durant and Harden, who were teammates with the Thunder for three seasons and were making their first appearance in Oklahoma City since joining forces with the Nets last season. Harden downplayed the occasion, but Durant said it was a meaningful win to him because that’s where he built the foundation for his career.
"When James got traded [to Houston for the 2012-13 season], I didn’t know what the future would hold and for us. To come back around on the same team as we get older is pretty sweet," he said. "Coming here and [receiving] the love that we got from the fans, you just know that we put in a lot of work here. We helped build this thing, and it was good to come in here and see what it is today."