It’s been more than a half a season since the Oklahoma City Thunder pulled off an epic comeback to beat the Brooklyn Nets in December. A lot has changed.
The last time the Brooklyn Nets faced the Oklahoma City Thunder was more than half a season ago.
The last time the Brooklyn Nets faced the Oklahoma City Thunder was a different dimension ago.
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The teams meet again on Wednesday night in Oklahoma City more than four months after the Thunder handed the Nets a loss that could have broken them.
On Dec. 5 at Barclays Center, the visiting Thunder rode an epic Paul George run in the fourth quarter to come back from 20 points down early in the period to stun the Nets 114-112. It was Brooklyn’s eighth straight loss and dropped them to a season-worst 10 games below .500.
George outscored the Nets by himself in that fourth quarter 25-19, going 9-for-12 overall and 4-for-6 from 3-point range with six rebounds in an epic nine minutes that pushed Brooklyn’s season to the brink of oblivion.
It was part of a 47-point outburst from George that still stands as his season-high — he did match it with 47 points in a win at home over the Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 11, recording his first triple-double in almost five years in the process.
It wound up being the loss that turned the Nets’ season around.
The game was the fourth during their eight-game skid in which Brooklyn led by double digits before losing and was the worst one of all. The Nets have squandered a 20-point lead to the Philadelphia 76ers, an 11-point edge to the Utah Jazz and a 10-point lead to the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Thunder had come back to win after trailing in the third quarter by 23 points and going down 95-75 with 11:29 remaining. With the win, Oklahoma City improved to 16-7 on the young season and left the Nets at 8-18.
It was the loss that could have pushed Brooklyn over the edge, toward a season of playing for ping pong balls instead of playoff positioning.
Instead, the Nets turned around and ran off seven straight wins after the loss to the Thunder and have been one of the best teams in the NBA since.
At 28-15 since that loss, Brooklyn is tied with Portland and the San Antonio Spurs for the fifth-best record in the league over that span, a .651 winning percentage exceeded during that stretch only by the Milwaukee Bucks (35-10), Houston Rockets (31-13), Golden State Warriors (28-12) and Indiana Pacers (29-15).
Heady company indeed.
Oklahoma City, for its part, is 25-19 since their epic win at Barclays Center, 13th-best in the league in that span.
Brooklyn enters play Wednesday night at 36-33 on the season, opening a seven-game road trip with a half-game lead over the seventh-place Detroit Pistons in the race for the No. 6 spot in the Eastern Conference and 3½ games ahead of the eighth-place Miami Heat.
The teams outside the top eight, the Orlando Magic and Charlotte Hornets, are respectively one and 1½ games behind Miami and 4½ and five in back of Brooklyn.
The Nets also start the trip with a streak of four consecutive victories — the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference — and are 4-2 in March after winning just four times in 10 games in February.
But the entire resurgence of the Brooklyn Nets can be traced back to a game that got away, a game that changed a team into one that is fighting for a playoff spot and has learned how to close out games to the point that another 23-point collapse is almost inconceivable.
As straight as it might sound, the Nets and their fans might owe the Oklahoma City Thunder a debt of gratitude. From the ashes of a horrible loss, a playoff run was built.