The Oklahoma City Thunder played a very strong first quarter and caused a minor headache in the fourth, but the Brooklyn Nets did something that OKC’s last four opponents had not: They held on and closed out the Thunder.
The Thunder kept pace with the Nets through the first 11 minutes before a mini-spurt by the Nets at the end of the first quarter put them up 30-25. Brooklyn built upon that in the second and third quarter as OKC struggled to make shots, particularly from behind the arc.
The Nets’ lead was built to 20 in the fourth quarter, but Oklahoma City’s bench went on a 17-7 run over about four-and-a-half minutes to force Durant, Mills and Blake Griffin to come back in with 5:46 to play.
That was apparently much to their chagrin, as Durant made the next four points, Mills hit a pair of 3s, and the Nets outscored the Thunder 19-5 from the time that substitution was made until the end of the game.
That ended the Thunder’s four-game winning streak and sinks them to two games below .500.
Here are some grades from OKC’s performance.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl's defense on Harden: A
This grade is for one particular play, and it is the Thunder’s highlight of the game. Rookie center Jeremiah Robinson-Earl refused to be beat off the dribble by James Harden, one of the best in the game at creating space and scoring points.
If this video continued for about two seconds longer, it would have shown Lu Dort making a 3 in transition with a smooth release.
Robinson-Earl had a couple really nice moments, including a steal and an assist:
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) November 15, 2021
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) November 15, 2021
The Thunder swapped picks No. 34 and 36 for No. 32 for the rights to draft Robinson-Earl, and he has repeatedly shown why that relatively hefty price tag was worth it. It was a nice game for the rookie, who only had two points and attempted three shots but recorded four offensive rebounds, four defensive rebounds, a pair of assists and a steal.
Lu Dort: B
There’s something about Lu Dort’s release on 3-pointers that is, at times, subtly smoother than others in real-time. There were a couple shots from behind the arc early in the game in which it was clear it was going in as soon as it was released from his fingers.
Dort made three 3-pointers in the first quarter and had 11 points by the end of the frame. He was good offensively against the Nets, finishing with 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting and 3-for-6 from behind the arc.
He recorded 20 points for the third game in a row, the first such stretch in his career.
While those numbers were good, his fouling was not up to standard. Dort committed five fouls and very nearly got a sixth late in the fourth quarter when he drove into the lane at Griffin and may have been lucky to receive a no-call.
Dort has only fouled out one time in his career — funny enough, the second game of his NBA career, when he committed six fouls in 19:51 of play — but came dangerously close on Sunday.
The Thunder managed to dictate the pace for quite a bit of the first half. They worked well in transition, got up court quickly and moved the ball eagerly. They are still looking for an offensive identity that goes beyond letting Shai Gilgeous-Alexander cook, and they’re finding some concept of it when SGA and Josh Giddey are handling the rock and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl or Mike Muscala are creating extra space.
Play got sloppy in the second half though, and Brooklyn took control over the tempo of the game. It’s worth a mention, though, that it is coming along through a dozen games.
Muscala did not play on Sunday, so his presence on Monday could help maintain the pace for a longer period.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: B-
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was decent. He had a couple really nice step-back 3s, which are becoming a staple of his offensive game. He scored an efficient 23 points. But he failed to put any real imprint on the game.
There were a few times this game where a surge by the star could have propelled the Thunder. He scored two points in his five minutes of play in the second quarter, a stretch in which Brooklyn stretched its lead from six to 13. He played for two brief minutes in the fourth quarter after the deficit was cut to 10, but his only moments in that span were getting blocked and turning over the ball once.
We’re being picky. Gilgeous-Alexander had a solid game, going 8-for-14 from the field and 3-for-6 from deep. There isn’t much to complain about. But as he advances to the superstar stages, look for him to assert himself more in these types of games.
Darius Bazley: D-
Just a disappointing game for Darius Bazley, who had five points and five rebounds in 26 minutes of play. He went 2-for-13 from the field and made one of six 3-pointers that he attempted.
Bazley had reached double-digit points in five games in a row proceeding this contest. In those games, he shot 52% from the field and went 9-for-18 from behind the arc. It’s not a coincidence that the Thunder played very well in those five games.
It’s becoming a trend that as Bazley plays, the Thunder play. This loss to Brooklyn was another example.
3-point shooting: D
Bazley wasn’t alone in the poor 3-point shooting. The team shot 14-of-45 from behind the arc, good for 31.1%, and it continues to be an area in which the Thunder struggle.
It was one of the keys coming into the game. Brooklyn’s 3-point defense was the second-best in the league entering the night, and the Thunder’s 3-point percentage was third-worst. It happened exactly as the stats indicated it would.
The reason it’s a D instead of an F is because four OKC players made multiple 3-pointers.
Brooklyn, on the other hand, went 18-for-43 (41.9%) on the back of Mills, who poured in nine made 3-pointers. He was untouchable.
Harden was the Rockets’ weak link from behind the arc, going 1-for-8.
Aaron Wiggins: C
Aaron Wiggins made his NBA debut on Sunday. It wasn’t bad, as he recorded four rebounds and four assists, but he scored just three points in 21 minutes of action.
One positive play that stands out was in transition in which he made a smooth crossover and pass from around the free throw line into the paint. It was deflected out of bounds by a defender, but it was still a pretty attempt and attention-worthy crossover.
Improving his 3-point shooting would go a long way. Wiggins was 1-for-4 from deep. His percentage in college was all over the place — a desirable 41.3% as a freshman, a disastrous 31.7% as a sophomore, and then a middle-of-the-ground 35.6% in his junior and final season at Maryland — so it’s tough to say what’s for real.
The Thunder will take the court against the Miami Heat on Monday for the second night of a back-to-back, this time presumably with Muscala in the lineup. It is scheduled to tip off at 7 p.m. Central Time.