MEXICO CITY — There was no recurrence of the earthquake that shook Mexico’s capital in September, but the Nets’ world was rocked Monday afternoon by news that they had completed a trade for Philadelphia center Jahlil Okafor. Somehow, they shook off the tremors with a great fourth-quarter performance on their way to a 100-95 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night at Arena Ciudad de México.
The Nets outscored the Thunder 26-14 in the final period before a sellout crowd of 20,562, limiting Russell Westbrook to five of his 31 points in the quarter. It was the second straight win for the Nets on their three-game road trip, with only another Mexico City game remaining Saturday against the Heat.
The Nets (10-14) had five players in double figures. Caris Le Vert had 21 points and 10 assists off the bench, as he played 31 minutes with starting point guard Spencer Dinwiddie in foul trouble. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 17 points, Allen Crabbe had 15 and Tyler Zeller and Quincy Acy scored 11 each.
Westbrook topped the Thunder (11-13) but fell short of his usual triple-double with eight rebounds and six assists. Former Knick Carmelo Anthony totaled 11 points and 11 rebounds, shooting 5-for-20, and Steven Adams had 12 points and 14 rebounds.
Asked how he handled news of the trade with the players, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said he and general manager Sean Marks spoke to them on an individual basis. “It was important,” Atkinson said. “I felt good about that. Sean and I discussed it and said, ‘Let’s give them the why — why this is good for our future.’ Sometimes the players are left out.”
As if playing two home games in a foreign country wasn’t enough of a challenge, the Nets found themselves bidding goodbye to Trevor Booker, who flew to Philadelphia, and to Sean Kilpatrick, who was waived to make room for shooting guard Nik Stauskas, who moved with Okafor in the trade. The Nets had just 10 healthy bodies on the bench.
“It was tough for us,” LeVert said. “Those guys are really good guys as well as good basketball players. I was close to both of them. They’re your brothers. Before the game, we talked and said, ‘Even though we’re undermanned, we have to rally.’ We did a good job of that.”
Despite the upheaval, the Nets overcame a 16-point first-quarter deficit and fought their way back into a 58-49 halftime deficit. They opened the third quarter with a 12-2 run to gain a 61-60 lead and saw the lead change eight times in the period, which ended with the Thunder in front 79-74.
Starting with a three-pointer by Acy at the end of the third period, the Nets fashioned a 13-2 run to take an 84-81 lead. Westbrook made the first of two foul shots at 7:38 to put the Thunder ahead 85-84, but that’s when the Nets unleashed a barrage of three-pointers, with Crabbe, Hollis-Jefferson and Dinwiddie hitting in succession for a 93-85 lead.
The Thunder moved within 94-91 on a jumper by Anthony at the 3:11 mark, but Dinwiddie responded with an emphatic dunk at 1:51 and the Nets held on despite two egregious shot-clock violations in the final 1:10.
Atkinson said he felt the Nets got better as the game went along and credited the club’s performance team with preparing the players to handle Mexico City’s 7,382-foot altitude. Hollis-Jefferson said it was a factor in the Nets’ fourth-quarter effort.
“It was about staying together and being aggressive,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “The altitude was tough. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. Credit the performance staff for putting together a process of playing, and it worked for us.”