It was James Harden and a shorthanded supporting cast against the world Thursday night at Barclays Center, and that simply wasn’t good enough as the Nets suffered a 130-109 loss to the bottom-feeding Thunder. The loss dropped the Nets’ home record to 11-11 and left them at 26-15 at the halfway mark of the season.
The Nets rested Kevin Durant and Patty Mills and, of course, they did not have Kyrie Irving, who is ineligible for home games because he is unvaccinated. LaMarcus Aldridge and Nic Claxton also sat out with injuries.
Because it came at the end of a stretch of four games in five nights and travel that spanned coast-to-coast, the start time against the Thunder was pushed back from the usual 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The Nets were coming off a season-best performance in their 138-112 win over the Bulls on Wednesday night in Chicago, but their flight home didn’t arrive until about 5 a.m. Thursday.
So the Nets were up against significant logistical and manpower obstacles, as Harden explained when asked how he felt after the game.
"Tired," he said. "Exhausted. Nah, man, it’s just been because of the COVID. Instead of having two days [off during the past five days], we had to follow with Portland [Monday], then come back to Chicago [Wednesday] and then play tonight shorthanded. So it’s a lot.
"Today was definitely a little frustrating because we wanted to win. We played so well last night, so we wanted to have some kind of carryover. But it just didn’t happen. We got in pretty early. I didn’t really get to bed until 7:30 and then woke up early. So it was crazy. But we tried."
The Nets trailed by 22 early in the third period but managed an 18-6 run that included eight points from David Duke Jr. to cut their deficit to 10 points, but that ballooned to 100-83 by the end of the period.
Back-to-back three-pointers by Harden triggered a 13-4 Nets run to cut the deficit to 104-96 on a layup by Cam Thomas with 8:27 to go. But the Thunder responded with a fusillade of five three-pointers in a clinching 19-6 run to restore a 21-point lead.
Harden had 26 points and nine assists but shot 7-for-22. Thomas added 19 points.
The Thunder (14-27) got 33 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and 27 points from Luguentz Dort. The Thunder shot 44.4% from three-point range (20-for- 45) and held the Nets to 21.9% (7-for-32) from outside the arc.
"They made some tough shots," Harden said. "On paper, they’re one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league, and they made 20-plus threes. So give them credit."
The Nets’ fatigue showed from the start as they gave up 38 points in the first period and 70 by halftime and trailed by as much as 21 in the first half.
"One part of us is just glad to get this week over with, traveling across the country, four in five nights, time zones, late games, early games, all that stuff," coach Steve Nash said. "I felt for our guys a little bit trying to get some juice tonight.
"We didn’t play well. That’s part of it. Those guys played very well and made shots. They’re a pack-the-paint team. We had a bunch of shooters out of the lineup, and it was tough. We scrapped and clawed and got it back to eight, but you could just tell it was a tough task for our guys with all of the travel and playing."
Reflecting on the difficulty of playing four games in five nights while traveling from coast-to-coast, Nash chalked it up to the demands of navigating health and safety protocols and schedule changes in the COVID era.
"No one’s going to feel sorry for us," he said. "We recognize what it is. We’re glad to get it behind us, and we’re fortunate we won two of the games. We had maybe our best performance of the year in this stretch [at Chicago], so lots to build on. We got some rest tonight for some guys that have played a ton of minutes, and we got some reps for some younger guys to continue to develop."
Notes & quotes: The decision to rest both Durant and Mills at a time when the Nets are missing several key rotational players begged the question of why they didn’t stagger it and rest one against the Thunder and the other against the visiting Pelicans on Saturday night.
"I think those guys have just played so much and have had so much responsibility in the games recently that it wouldn’t be smart for them to play tonight," Nash said. "Patty’s been kind of on the edge as far as his load for a while now, and Kevin is also. It was a little bit of a risk that we didn’t want to take tonight. If you get cute and try to mix it up, you’re putting a risk on one of those guys."