The New Jersey Nets and Oklahoma City Thunder played one of the best games of the season earlier this year—a triple-overtime thriller eventually won by Russell Westbrook and the Thunder.
After playing to a 24-24 standstill after one quarter Wednesday night, it seemed we may be heading for another classic.
Then the train came completely off the track, as the Nets were outscored 64-46 in the second and third quarters, ultimately losing by a final score of 114-93.
This is not to say the Nets did not play hard. They fought and were even decent offensively, shooting at 48 percent on the night. They were unable to sustain their early game success, however.
New Jersey was even with OKC after 12 minutes of play in large part due to their four steals, three blocks and careful handling of the ball (they had just three turnovers at that point).
Twelve second quarter turnovers—the result of bad passes and other careless actions—helped the Thunder establish a 57-46 lead going into halftime.
They would stretch the advantage to 18 points by the time the fourth quarter started and the game was all but over.
On the night, the Nets had 23 turnovers and the Thunder scored 23 points off of them. New Jersey tried to be aggressive on offense, as evidenced by their 27 free throw attempts, but their allowing Oklahoma City to attempt 11 more total field-goal attempts was too much to overcome.
In hindsight, we should have seen it coming, as the Nets missed a number of at-the-basket shots in the first quarter, including three lay-ups in the game's first three minutes.
The Thunder are also a much better team than the Nets, led by Westbrook and Kevin Durant, who combined to go 17-of-32 from the floor and scored 44 points. Westbrook also had seven assists.
New Jersey's lack of depth was also apparent as Oklahoma City's bench outscored the Nets' backups 47-35. The Nets also lack any real outside presence with Antony Morrow injured and they attempted only seven three-pointers in the game.
Sasha Vujacic has shown he is capable of connecting from downtown, but he is not close to Morrow's level in that area of the game.
The Nets got good contributions from Devin Harris (19 points on 7-of-13 shooting) and Brook Lopez (9-of-16 from the floor, 19 points and six rebounds), although Lopez did not attempt a free throw until there were just over two minutes left in the third.
They saw the majority of their minutes once the game was out of reach, but Ben Uzoh and Derrick Favors also had solid games, combining for 14 points. Uzoh also had five assists and three rebounds in just 11 minutes.
This is nothing we didn't know coming into the season. The Nets aren't capable of taking down the league's elite teams night in and night out.
It is still nice to see them play hard even when it's obvious they are going to lose, however, and if they can clean up their play, the scores will be closer.
New Jersey will have a day to recover before playing an afternoon game in Chicago on New Year's Eve.