Mikal Bridges reveals top takeaway from Nets’ grueling road trip

The Brooklyn Nets had made a living in the third quarter on their road trip heading into Tuesday’s matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Brooklyn dominated the period in three games against the Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets, averaging 35.7 points while holding opponents to 20.3 on 34.9 percent shooting (22-of-63) with 4.3 turnovers.

Nets’ Third Quarters

  • Thursday at Milwaukee: +10 (33-23)
  • Friday at Minnesota: +17 (37-20)
  • Sunday at Denver: +19 (37-18)

However, each of those three games shared one common denominator: the Nets trailed by 8-10 points at the half. It was a different story in Oklahoma City. Brooklyn held a 10-point halftime lead only to be outscored 38-20 in the third quarter during a 121-107 loss. The Thunder shot 8-of-15 from three while the Nets shot an abysmal 3-of-16 from the field and 0-of-7 from three.

Mikal Bridges was the lone bright spot for Brooklyn, scoring 18 of his 34 points in the second half. The newly-acquired Net emphasized the mindset his team needs when starting the third quarter:

“When we’re up, especially going into the half, (we have) to play like we’re down,” he said postgame. “I think we’re good when we’re down at half and we come out with a spark. If we’re up at the half, we just gotta play like we’re down and keep that energy.”

The numbers back up Bridges’ theory. The new-look Nets have trailed at the half in eight of their 14 games. They won seven of the ensuing third quarters on their way to a plus-60 total box plus-minus. Conversely, Brooklyn lost five of the six third quarters after leading and are a minus-44 overall.

Oklahoma City’s three-point barrage was a main factor in Brooklyn’s third-quarter struggles Tuesday. Lu Dort, a 33.5 percent career three-point shooter, drained five triples in the frame. However, Bridges was more interested in his team’s low effort when speaking on their struggles:

“They just played harder than us,” he said. “Lu (Dort) made some threes at the beginning of the third that kind of got them juiced up. But they played harder, got the loose balls, got the 50/50 balls. They just outplayed us in that second half.”

That lack of energy on both ends for long stretches of the third was glaring. Oklahoma City grabbed five offensive rebounds and routinely outworked the Nets for loose balls, something that allowed them to attempt nearly twice as many shots as Brooklyn (31-16).

On the other end, the Nets’ offense stalled against the Thunder’s switch-heavy scheme. Brooklyn reverted to heavy isolation, leading to inefficient shots, short possessions and fastbreak opportunities for Oklahoma City.

“They ended up going a little smaller and switching some things. That made us more stagnant, (but) it still should’ve allowed us to get to the paint and get to the rim if we were persistent enough,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said. “We had 20 assists in the first half and to not have any assists in the third quarter is a big part of us not winning tonight.”

NBA basketball is a game of runs. However, in the Nets’ case, the third-quarter numbers are dramatic. They tell a story of grit when facing adversity and complacency when ahead. The former, which is often the more difficult side of the coin for a new team, can be taken as a positive. But the need for a greater level of focus when leading will only become more apparent for a Brooklyn team that hopes to compete in the playoffs.

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