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Back-to-back, the young, fun and hungry Oklahoma City Thunder rolled into town Sunday night against a rested Brooklyn Nets squad and walked away with a 112-102 victory. The Nets went 0-2 on Friday without Kevin Durant and also without Ben Simmons, who was scratched late with a sore back. entered the night trailing the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference behind the Celtics, 27-14. They are then still in second place, but just half a game ahead of the Bucks.

It was a true call-up game for the Nets and their upcoming game without superstar Durant. Oklahoma City is an honest, confident club whose point differential has recently turned positive after winning four of their last five games.

But this is still a basketball club whose team and fans entered the year with their sights set on No. 1 overall draft pick and French teenage phenom Victor Wembanyama. OKC entered the evening in twelve straight, just shy of even a bid to the Western Conference Play-In Tournament. But that didn’t stop them from playing with gusto and ultimately grit.

Jacques Vaughn’s spin reflected the relative transition Brooklyn finds itself without Durant, the man they call the “7.” Making matters more problematic, Ben Simmons left with a sore back half an hour before tipoff (after suddenly being demoted to “questionable” pregame). That prompted several rotational changes by Brooklyn’s head coach.

“He’s been through warm-ups [and] felt some pressure,” Vaughn said after the match. “That was the report I had and then he got a late scratch.” Simmons will travel with the team to San Antonio “will be on the trip with us, so hopefully it will be one game,” Vaughn added. One positive thing. Simmons won’t have to undergo an MRI, which is another indication that the Nets don’t see pain as a big issue.

This was Simmons’ 11th missed game this season. He underwent back surgery to repair a herniated disc on May 4, shortly after last season ended.

Edmond Sumner, usually Brooklyn’s ninth man who has seen little playing time in recent games, has stepped into the starting lineup to replace Simmons’ ball-handling and (mostly theoretical) presence. Markeef Morris also got some early minutes to help replace Simmons in rebounding.

The first half followed a pattern with the Thunder controlling the game, but Brooklyn never let OKC’s lead exceed six or seven points, always keeping their opponents at arm’s length. The Nets consistently created open looks, but couldn’t convert to the kind of momentum that allowed them to lead by more than a few points.

The Nets finally got hot in the third quarter and slowly built their lead into double digits, but a fiery run from the Thunder saw Brooklyn’s lead cut to five with twelve minutes to play. The Thunder carried the momentum into the final frame of action, where hot shots from Josh Gidday, Shai Gilges-Alexander and Isaiah Joe built their double-digit lead. The Nets tried to claw their way back into the game, but a 2-of-13 fourth quarter from deep left the Barclays Center crowd bobbing their heads for the exits. As in the Boston loss, there were good looks, but the basket was blocked. Bottom line: the Nets won 37-22 in the fourth.

“Tonight, it seemed like we just missed some good shots,” Seth Curry said after the game. “But [in the] fourth quarter, it looked like our offense had stalled. We weren’t putting the ball in the basket, I think it kind of wore us down mentally on the other end.”

There is a shooting controversy in the NBA. They shot over 40% from 3-point range during Brooklyn’s 18-2 stretch, tonight they fell under 30%. “[You] “You can’t just rely on Kyrie to make the tough shots, but at the same time, we made some good shots tonight,” Curry insisted. “[We] entered the zone, pass the ball. Sometimes it’s just a hit or miss game.”

Both Curry and Vaughn noted that excelling defensively, and the area where the Nets have struggled during the winning streak, is becoming more difficult offensively.

“It’s tougher, mentally and physically, because Kevin saves you sometimes and gives you a bucket, so now your defense is set,” Vaughan said. “The challenge for this group is that they have to dig deeper and have more mental strength than before.”

“We’ve got to be at our best in the fourth quarter, especially offensively, because guys are putting pressure on us defensively when we get open,” Curry added.

Joe Harris had a particularly bad game as he was off the mark with open corner threes that derailed any momentum. Harris finished with eight points on 3-of-9 shooting in 27 minutes, including 2-of-8 from behind the arc.

Irving also struggled to shoot the ball for the second straight game, connecting on just seven of his 20 attempts from the field and all but one 3-pointer. He finished with just fifteen points, his third lowest total of the season.

“I’m going to continue to prepare the best way I know how and just continue to be a better example for the guys in the locker room,” Irving said after the game. He also dismissed speculation that the Nets are following last year’s script, when the Nets went 5-16, including 11 straight losses, after KD went down. “Well, I’m always drafting, that helps. We don’t have anyone who is half-hearted in the dressing room.”

There were bright spots for the Nets. Nick Claxton had 17 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks on 7-for-10 shooting. Curry finished with 23 points on 3-of-8 3-point shooting. The Nets also won the rebounding battle, barely 51-50, but committed 21 turnovers.

Three players finished with 20 or more points for OKC, with Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddy both having 28 to match Giddy’s career high, and Lugenz Dort with 22.

Milestone Watch:

The signs were mostly about Nick Claxton.

  • Claxton now has an eight-game hitting streak with three or more hits. Longest streak of games with three or more blocks in franchise history;

-11 – Sean Bradley – March 1996

-11 – Sean Bradley – February 1996

-8 – Nic Claxton – dec. 2002 – Jan. 2023 (active)

The eight game streak is also the longest in the NBA so far this season.

  • Claxton (17 points, 13 rebounds) recorded his team-high 12th double-double of the season. He combined for five double-doubles in his first three seasons.
  • Seth Curry (23 points) recorded his sixth 20-point game of the season (all off the bench).
  • The Thunder have won 10 straight against the Knicks/Nets in New York City. OKC last lost in the city on Dec. 16, 2017, 1,856 days ago. (H/T to Joe Mussatto,)
  • If Ben Simmons played, there would be four Australian-born players in the game: Simmons, Patty Mills, Josh Gidday and Kyrie Irving.

Guidi considers Claxton ‘too small’

Josh Gidday went there when the NBA’s best shot stopper turned to Nick Claxton after a handoff and gave the “too small” sign.

Drew Smith on the bench

After scoring 13 points and dishing out six assists in 33 minutes Saturday night in Long Island, the Nets’ new two-way, 6’3″ point guard Drew Smith was in Brooklyn on Sunday meeting with the Nets coaching staff and players. Jacqueline Vaughn said he had to talk to Smith after practice Sunday morning. He will wear the number 9 in both Brooklyn and Long Island.

No word on whether Smith will travel with Brooklyn or stay home and play with Long Island. The G League Nets play the Grand Rapids Gold at Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday afternoon at 1:00 p.m.

What’s next?

Next up for Brooklyn will be the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday as the first stop on an eleven-day road trip. The game is scheduled for 8:00 PM and will be telecast on YES Network.


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