Where does one begin in describing a game like the one played in Newark Wednesday night between the Nets and Thunder?
Firstly, anyone who thought this game would lack sizzle because both teams’ best players, Devin Harris and Kevin Durant, were out with injuries was sorely mistaken.
The Nets should have lost in regulation, but a step-through running 3-pointer got them to overtime. They could have won after the first overtime. They should have won after the second overtime, but a foul on a 3-point attempt dashed those hopes. Russell Westbrook did all he could to lead Oklahoma City in the third overtime, and the Nets still had a shot to win it in the final seconds. In the end, the Thunder escaped with a 123-120 win that may take as long to talk about as it did to play.
Winning time: As the introduction alluded to, a triple-overtime game that is this back-and-forth starts to accumulate too many pivotal moments and plays to remember, but two that helped lift Oklahoma City stick out in particular. The aforementioned foul on a 3-point attempt, which was Stephen Graham fouling an off-balance Jeff Green with four seconds left as Green quickly got up a shot, killed New Jersey’s best chance at winning the game. Avery Johnson described the play after the game as one where, up three, the Nets were indeed looking to foul, but the foul just didn’t come under ideal circumstances (Green being off-balance and in position to hoist one, rather than dribbling and attempting to set up a play). The second big OKC play occurred in the third overtime, with Westbrook converting an old-fashioned 3-point play with the Nets already down one. Even though a Jordan Farmar 3-pointer still helped get the Nets a chance to tie on the game’s final possession, Westbrook’s play helped sway the odds in the Thunder’s favor more than any other moment of the period.
How the game was won: Again, where to start? From the Nets’ perspective, the better question might be “how’d this one get away” which is a strange question to ask in a game where your team ends up on the good side a desperation three at the buzzer to end regulation, but such was this Wednesday evening in Newark.
Well, the moments listed above were certainly huge. The biggest factor for New Jersey in not being able to close this game out was the deterioration of its offense as the minutes ticked by in each overtime period. The Nets got out to good starts in each of the three overtimes, but as crunch time got, well, “crunchier,” the Nets folded much too often. That isn’t to say that such behavior wouldn’t be expected in a game where they were without their floor general and most assertive offensive weapon. But ultimately, a problem that has been apparent all season long reared its ugly head numerous times down the stretch. Too many of their key possessions end with either a forced, inopportune shot in the waning seconds of the 24-second clock, or, even worse, without a shot at all. Credit has to be given to Farmar for trying to make things happen, but since the Nets’ offense in that situation is often “let’s see what Devin can do off the bounce,” he didn’t really have the support he needed to be able to make the necessary plays. Since taking Westbrook off the dribble wasn’t going to happen too easily for Farmar, a number of plays ended up in the hands of Brook Lopez as he caught the ball too far from the hoop. While Lopez has some great skill as a scorer in the post and has shown increased range in knocking down his jump shot, he is not, at this stage in his career, a facilitator or someone you want to trust to make a play in the closing seconds. A few plays that involved him catching it out on the elbow ended with turnovers, either through shot clock violations or steals.
A number of Nets, most notably Anthony Morrow, made huge shots in the overtimes, and if it wasn’t for a pretty unbelievable buzzer beater by Morrow, this article wouldn’t be discussing a 63-minute basketball game. The Nets were able to survive for as long as they did, despite the miscues mentioned above, because Westbrook, who, all told, put up some fantastic numbers, didn’t find his shooting stroke until the final overtime. Once he got going, the Nets had to scratch and claw to stay in it, which they did, but it really wasn’t easy for them to go toe-to-toe with a top scorer who was in the zone, and it ultimately led to defeat.
Rather than wax poetic about the numerous moral victory nuggets one could mine for the Nets out of this epic game, I’ll try to hit them quickly here:
- Again, Farmar gets some big credit for stepping in with Harris out and running the show in a tightly contested game. He finished tonight’s contest with just three turnovers in 52 minutes of action. That’s incredible ball control in arduous circumstances, particularly for a guy who’s used to being a backup. While he isn’t going to do all the things Harris is going to do (which, unfortunately for New Jersey, showed on some isolations down the stretch), he is certainly has been a nice free agency find as a backup point guard who has also fit well playing alongside Harris.
- Morrow is showing he’s more than a 3-point specialist. While no one is going to mistake him for Allen Iverson, he has shown the ability to put the ball on the floor a bit, hitting running one-handers in the lane or, at least, setting up plays where Harris and Farmar can try to move without the basketball. He’s also shown a knack for hitting 3-pointers under duress, as he did tonight to keep the Nets’ pulse beating beyond the fourth quarter. Especially with Favors’ minutes decreasing of late, one could make a strong argument that he’s becoming the most pleasant surprise of the season not named Kris Humphries.
- Speaking of Humphries, he continues to give the Nets some impressive inside play. His energy becomes infectious for the other guys on the court, and that showed again tonight as he added a couple more emphatic rejections to his quickly-growing shot-blocking credentials, and an aggressive second-opportunity jam that even got Harris and his injured knee to jump for joy.
- Lopez, although mentioned earlier in this post for not succeeding in something he really shouldn’t be asked to do, did show some fire and aggressiveness when he was put in a better place to succeed offensively on key possessions. On back-to-back plays toward the end of regulation, he completed a 3-point play driving to the hoop and then got fouled on a drive where he tried to throw down a dunk over Serge Ibaka. Hopefully, as he has more success in moments like these, he’ll become a more confident go-to guy in crunch time.
Player of the game: Jeff Green had a huge game for the Thunder in the absence of Durant, but Westbrook gets it for the way he carried Oklahoma City in the decisive third OT. He scored all 13 of his team’s points in the period and finished just an assist shy of what would have been a phenomenal triple-double. The line: 38 points, 15 rebounds, 9 assists and 3 steals in 48 minutes.
Key stat lines:
Oklahoma City (13-6)
- Jeff Green: 12-of-21 shooting, 4-of-5 3-point shooting, 9-of-9 free throw shooting, 37 points (career high), 5 rebounds, 4 assists (game-high 54 minutes)
- James Harden: 16 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals
- Serge Ibaka: 11 points, 6 rebounds, 4 blocks
New Jersey (6-13)
- Jordan Farmar: 12-of-21 shooting, 3-of-6 3-point shooting, 28 points (career high), 9 assists, 2 steals (52 minutes; first start of the season)
- Brook Lopez: 14-of-17 free throw shooting, 28 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks (53 minutes; first double-double of the season)
- Anthony Morrow: 9-of-15 shooting, 3-of-6 3-point shooting, 25 points, 5 rebounds
- Kris Humphries: 6 points, 15 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks
- Travis Outlaw: 7-of-14 shooting, 2-of-3 3-point shooting, 16 points
One takeaway from tonight’s game: Like there weren’t enough already listed above? First of all, no concise written piece could do all the moments in this game justice, so check out some highlights online if you missed this game. It was a great, great effort from a short-handed team tonight. Durant or no Durant, to see them compete over seven periods the way they did when, they’ve, at times, looked completely lost without Harris on the floor was encouraging. They hit a bunch of clutch free throws and played reasonably under control. They also came up with a number of key defensive stops, highlighted by Humphries’ blocks and a Lopez rejection on Westbrook that looked, at one point, like it could have been a hugely decisive play in the Nets’ favor. Some of the tools are there, and they keep hanging in close games, but as Humphries said after the game, “there’s not going to be an asterisk next to the score saying ‘they played really hard and were in it.’” From the perspective of a Nets fan who witnessed last season and this season, the way this group has played has certainly been encouraging. However, for this group of players, only four of whom were Nets last year, the wins can’t come soon enough, as the “almosts” could really start overshadowing the As for effort.
Notes: This was the Nets’ first triple-overtime game since a 1995 game against Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway’s Magic … Oklahoma City attempted 101 shots in tonight’s game … Durant was a late scratch just before the game with a knee injury. Ibaka got the starting nod in his absence … The Nets entered this game at 6-12, which compares favorably to the ignominious 0-18 record-setting start they had to last year’s campaign through as many games … In his post-game press conference, Avery Johnson focused much more on the positive than on the negative. He accepted blame for the fouling SNAFU that led to Green’s tying free throws in the second OT and said that he told the team after the game that efforts like the one they showed tonight were the reasons why he loves coming in to work with this team every day and why he’s proud to be their coach … The Nets, somewhat mercifully, will get tomorrow off after playing three overtimes following a game the night before. They’ll next travel to Charlotte to play the Bobcats on Friday night.