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Player grades: Slow start plagues Thunder in 124-115 loss to Nets

The NBA regular season is filled with ebbs and flows and that’s been accurately exemplified over OKC’s last three games.

The praise was at an all-time high after picking up arguably their most impressive win of the season over the Boston Celtics. Up next, a three-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks was frustrating but understandable considering scheduling snafus.

In the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 124-115 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, it followed a similar script of falling behind early but a late push showed signs of life before time ran out.

“If we find ourselves in those (large deficit) positions, we want to be a team that keeps fighting and squeezes everything out of the 48 minutes that we can,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said on the loss. “I thought we did that. But obviously, the lesson tonight is you can’t dig a hole like that and expect to come back and win a game.”

The Thunder looked flat from the get-go in their loss to the Nets. Brooklyn built up a 39-21 lead after the first quarter. That lead ballooned to 28 points by halftime as it scored a season-high 75 first-half points.

The third quarter was much the same story as the Thunder only ate into four points of that deficit. They made it interesting in the final frame — cutting it to as little as six points in the waning seconds — but OKC showed too little, too late to complete a 32-point comeback.

Overall, the Thunder shot 54% from the field but went just 9-of-31 (29%) from 3. The rebounding woes crept its ugly head again as OKC was out-boarded, 51-36 on the glass. The Nets scored 30 points on second-chance opportunities.

“A lot of it in the first half was just effort and physicality,” Daigneault said on OKC’s 30-7 second-chance points disadvantage. “I thought they were hungry for that game and they played like it… It took us way too long to pace with them.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the way for OKC with 34 points. Jalen Williams scored 12 of his 20 points in the final frame. The Thunder’s bench sparsely contributed with 19 total points.

Meanwhile, the Nets had a much better outing this time around against OKC compared to their New Year’s Eve performance. Brooklyn shot 45% from the field and went 14-of-39 (35.9%) from 3. It also shot 28-of-33 from the free-throw line. Five Nets players scored double-digit points.

“(They) had way more juice than we did in the first half of the game and they deserve it and we tipped our hat to them,” Daigneault said.

Spencer Dinwiddie and Nic Claxton led the Nets with 23 points apiece. After missing his last 20 shot attempts, Cam Thomas scored 19 points on 6-of-14 shooting off the bench.

Dennis Smith Jr. collected 13 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Mikal Bridges had 17 points and eight rebounds. With the win, the Nets snapped a five-game losing streak.

It’s been a rough two-game skid for OKC. Losing to two of the worst teams in the league is never going to be easy to stomach. But alas, that’s the life of the NBA regular season.

“We have to learn our lessons from these games for sure,” Daigneault said. “And we’ll do that. We’ll stare at them. But at the same time, we need to turn the page.”

Let’s look at Thunder player grades.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: A-plus

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Even though OKC has looked lethargic these last two games, Gilgeous-Alexander continues to produce at an elite level.

In 36 minutes, Gilgeous-Alexander had 34 points on 11-of-19 shooting, nine rebounds and six assists. He’s oddly struggled from the free-throw line recently and went 10-of-15 tonight.

A slow first half saw Gilgeous-Alexander score 12 points as OKC entered halftime trailing by nearly 30 points. A strong second half by the All-NBA guard coincided with the Thunder’s comeback push.

Gilgeous-Alexander scored 22 points in the second half but went just 3-of-6 in the fourth quarter. With OKC’s offense struggling for the first three quarters, he provided points.

Jalen Williams: B-plus

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

As the Thunder attempted to mount a comeback Williams headlined OKC’s 36-point fourth quarter.

In 36 minutes, Williams had 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting, five rebounds and five assists. He scored 12 points in the final frame to lead the Thunder. This included a personal 8-0 run to cut it to 14 points with a little under seven minutes left.

The 22-year-old did it on a mix of drives to the basket and hitting on contested jumpers. He helped relieve Gilgeous-Alexander of his scoring responsibilities in the final frame to make it an interesting fourth quarter.

Chet Holmgren: B-minus

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The non-SGA starters struggled for the first half and that included Holmgren.

Overall, Holmgren had 17 points on 8-of-15 shooting, six rebounds and three assists. He shot 0-of-4 from 3.

At the start of the fourth quarter, Holmgren scored four consecutive points to cut their deficit to 19 points with a little over 10 minutes left. They were impressive back-to-back baskets that didn’t happen enough in the first three quarters.

It’s important to note that Holmgren — who missed all of last season — surpassed his college total of games with this loss. In Gonzaga, he played 32 games. After tonight, he’s played all 33 games this season.

This will be something to monitor for the immediate future as OKC plays a jam-packed schedule this month. He’s never dealt with this type of workload before and it’ll be interesting to see if fatigue starts to set in eventually.

Josh Giddey: C-minus

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

This wasn’t akin to his worst games this season, but Giddey was in the background for most of the contest.

In 24 minutes, Giddey had 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting, eight rebounds and five assists. He shot 3-of-4 from the free-throw line.

The 21-year-old only saw four minutes of action in the final frame as OKC attempted a comeback. To his credit, he scored on consecutive OKC buckets to turn it into a 10-point deficit.

On an inbound pass, Giddey somehow found Joe in a tight pocket before he stepped out of bounds. It was a quality pass in an eight-point deficit with 20 seconds left.

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Story originally appeared on Thunder Wire