OKLAHOMA CITY – There were several times in this game when it appeared the Nets were done, especially with Courtney Lee hampered by a sprained right thumb.
The Nets shooting guard has been lights out lately. But Lee couldn’t hit a shot. He actually made two -– both layups, including one at the buzzer.
So when the Thunder were up 16 with two minutes left in the third and 15 with the fourth quarter nearing the midpoint, it looked like the Oklahoma City Thunder were on their way to another win and the Nets another loss.
That wound up happening, but the game was much closer than anyone would have guessed. The Nets lost 104-102, making that their third tough-luck loss on this four-game trip.
“The guys are learning that we’re not good enough to play without a real high level of effort for 48 minutes,” interim coach Kiki Vandeweghe said. “When we have a slight letdown, that’s when teams pull away from us.
“That happened a couple of times at the beginning of the game, in the first quarter and sometimes in the third quarter. But they’re learning how to stay away from that.”
The truth is, it’s hard for the Nets to win no matter what they do.
They were down huge early against the Knicks last Saturday and won by 20. They were down 21 to Memphis to start this trip and had chances to take the lead late.
The Nets were up 18 against the Mavericks Wednesday on a night when Dirk Nowitzki wasn’t at his best, but Dallas had too much talent and the Nets couldn’t score. Last night, it was a talent issue again, yet the Nets were right there with 1:30 left, down four and two shots to get within two or less.
The easy thing to say is the Nets can’t fall behind that big, but even when they are leading they have trouble hitting shots, getting stops and closing teams out.
Perhaps the only thing to take from this game is that no matter what their record says –- now 7-58 -– the Nets showed they will fight until the final seconds. It doesn’t really matter because there are no moral victories, but at least they’re not laying down. It’s because none of these guys wants to have his name next to the worst record in NBA history.
“I like our effort,” Devin Harris said. “We’re giving ourselves a chance to win the game in the end. But the way we’ve been starting out, beside the Dallas game, has been a little bit disheartening. But I like the way our bench is coming in and really getting us back into the game. The second half really has been the key for us.”
What was impressive about this comeback was Lee was 2-for-9, Brook Lopez just 6-for-14 with 14 points and Harris missed all four of his three-point tries. Yet the Nets were right there at the end.
Their bench played huge as Keyon Dooling (15 points) gave them a big lift in the first half, Terrence Williams (14 points) was solid throughout and Jarvis Hayes (16 points) was clutch late. He scored 13 points in the game’s final 13:48. He knocked down some big threes that gave the Nets hope.
But too much Jeff Green early –- 20 of his 27 points came in the first half –- and Kevin Durant late –- 13 of his 32 were in the fourth quarter –- and not enough Nets stops and makes led to their 58th loss.
Afterward there was praise for the Nets effort, deservedly, but effort is not enough. The Nets have to learn how to play with leads and not let teams get out to big leads themselves. Maybe then they'll get the results they want.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)