OKLAHOMA CITY — On Monday, the Nets had all the answers in a blowout of the rival Eastern Conference-contending Pistons, and for a while it seemed they might continue their hot streak as they built a 17-point second-quarter lead against the Thunder Wednesday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
But the Nets had no answer for Russell Westbrook, who led an 18-3 fourth-quarter run that broke open a one-point game and gave the Thunder a 108-96 victory that snapped a four-game Nets winning streak. Westbrook had seven points and four assists in the decisive run, and he finished with one of his customary triple-doubles, totaling 31 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists.
The first game of the Nets’ seven-game road trip was a lesson in learning how to sustain the sort of physicality and playoff intensity they brought against the Pistons but lacked in the second half against the Thunder. They gave up 38 points in the third quarter but came back to stick a nose in front when Spencer Dinwiddie drilled a three for an 83-82 lead with 10:17 mark left to play. But it was short-lived as the Thunder ran off 12 straight points to begin the clinching 18-3 run.
“Against a team like this, you’ve got to be close to perfect to beat them on the road here, and we weren’t at that level,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said.
“It’s a good lesson for this road trip is being able to handle the physicality when a team really turns it up like that. That’s on both sides of the ball.
“It’s taking care of the ball offensively and taking good shots. You’ve got to run your cuts a little better, screen a little better. Everything has got to be more perfect. And then you have to be able to keep an athletic team in front of you.”
Dinwiddie led the Nets (36-34) with 25 points, D’Angelo Russell added 14 points and seven assists and Joe Harris had 13 points. But with DeMarre Carroll (left knee strain) and Shabazz Napier (right hamstring tightness) sidelined by injuries, the Nets lacked their usual scoring punch.
Paul George exploded for 25 points and nine rebounds for the Thunder (42-26), including 13 points in the third quarter, and Jerami Grant added 15 points. The Thunder outrebounded the Nets (51-43), outscored them in the paint (46-40) and forced 17 Nets turnovers they converted to 22 points.
“They’re a well-seasoned ballclub, they’ve been to the playoffs, and they have great players all-around,” Dinwiddie said. “In terms of intensity, they forced turnovers, and obviously, we didn’t get enough stops.
“This is definitely something where a young group has to continue to learn and go through because the playoffs are going to be similar to this, and we have to keep growing and getting better.”
Since blowing a 20-point fourth-quarter lead at home against the Thunder in December, the Nets had gone 24-1 in games where they led by at least 10 points. So, it looked promising when they opened with a quick 11-1 lead and then went on a 15-3 second-quarter run for a 42-25 advantage. But the Thunder cut the halftime lead to 10, and they held the Nets to 44 second-half points and simply exploded on the decisive fourth-quarter run.
“They turned up the energy and tried to get the ball out of Spencer’s and DLo’s hands,” Allen Crabbe said. “They threw the last punch, and we didn’t bounce back.”