Just when you think it can’t get any worse for the Nets, they find new and even more creative ways to fold under end-game pressure. They led the Thunder by 23 points in the third quarter and 20 early in the final period but allowed Paul George to go absolutely wild down the stretch to beat them, 114-112, Wednesday night at Barclays Center.
George scored 25 of his 47 points in the final period, including a three from just right of the top of the arc, where he was deadly all night, that gave the Thunder the lead with 3.1 seconds left. On the Nets’ ensuing inbounds play, Jared Dudley caught the pass but slipped, leaving 0.1 seconds on the clock after a timeout. The next inbounds attempt sailed hopelessly past the rim, and the Nets’ eighth straight loss was in the bank.
This marked the eighth time this season the Nets have blown a double-digit lead, which is an NBA-high for futility. Asked if the Nets’ collapses are as much mental as physical, coach Kenny Atkinson wasn’t buying it.
“I don’t see us not competing or us scared,” Atkinson said. “The other team is making more plays than us. You know, we’re getting stops and we can’t corral the rebound. We’re just not making those two or three more plays we have to make to win the game. It’s really when these veteran teams start putting the pressure on us. It’s a learning experience you’ve got to go through.”
George had 22 points, shooting 6-for-15 through three periods, but he hit nine of 12 in the fourth to lead the amazing comeback by the Thunder (16-7), which also got a triple-double from Russell Westbrook with 21 points, 15 rebounds and 17 assists.
Speaking of his game-winning basket, George said, “Yeah, it felt good. I knew I had the hot hand.”
Allen Crabbe led six Nets in double figures with 22 points, and they got 19 from Joe Harris and 17 each from D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie.
The Nets (8-18) built a 16-point halftime lead and seemed ready to make a breakthrough when they pushed it to 23 in the third period against the best third-quarter team in the NBA. After the first basket of the fourth quarter, the Nets were up 95-75 and seemingly in control.
But George turned radioactive, scoring 25 of the Thunder’s final 29 points, and the Nets were helpless to stop him. The Thunder only took the lead on his final basket, when George let an onrushing Nets defender go past and then lined up the wide-open three.
“Honestly, it’s deflating,” Crabbe said. “That’s probably the third or fourth game we could have won . . . [George] is a high-caliber basketball player. You can’t let somebody get hot like that. For a guy like that, I’m pretty sure it only takes one or two baskets to go in before he starts feeling like the rim is really big. They just controlled the fourth quarter.”
Russell scored the Nets’ final basket on a three-pointer with 2:23 left for a 112-107 lead, but they committed a turnover and missed their final three shots, including a three-pointer by Russell with 10.8 seconds left when there still were 8.7 seconds on the shot clock, and botched the inbounds play with 3.1 seconds left.
“We’ve got to be resilient,” Atkinson said. “we’ve got to fight through this. We’re playing good basketball, and hopefully, the basketball gods will reward us.”