A disturbing pattern of performance emerged long before the final buzzer sounded on the Thunder’s stunning 95-93 loss to Brooklyn on Thursday night, the second straight game in which Oklahoma City blew a 16-point lead on its home floor.
It began in the first quarter, when a leaky defense and an erratic offense allowed the Nets to make 55 percent of their shots and score 29 points — seven fewer than they mustered by halftime two nights earlier at San Antonio.
But two plays in particular personified the sloppiness the Thunder tried to skate by with before ultimately being forced to accept a humbling defeat, which came courtesy of a 19-foot jumper by Nets guard Joe Johnson over Serge Ibaka as time expired.
Jeremy Lamb supplied both.
With the ball in his hands and the Thunder having a chance at the final shot down one with the shot clock off, the second-year shooting guard instead used a Nick Collison screen on the right wing and settled for a 3-pointer with eights seconds showing.
At the other end, Nets guard Alan Anderson didn’t. He drilled a 21-footer to push Brooklyn’s lead to three.
Twenty-four minutes later, Lamb was inbounding the ball after a made Nets basket with 0.9 seconds left in the third quarter. The Thunder held a 77-63 lead. But Lamb tried sailing a pass to a streaking Perry Jones III. The ball was intercepted, and Deron Williams had just enough time to fling a desperation 3-pointer that rattled around the rim before dropping through the net.
In between those two periods, the Thunder closed the half with back-to-back turnovers in the final 36 seconds, squandering more opportunities to create separation.
“We have to do a better job, definitely, of protecting leads,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “That’s the second game in a row that we didn’t do a good job of closing quarters and closing games out. That’s something that we have to do a better job of, especially on our home floor.”
Brooks called them mental mistakes. But he insisted in the next breath that they must be corrected.
“They can be,” Brooks added.
Lamb lifted the Thunder to a 77-61 lead with 40 seconds left in the third period. The Thunder’s advantage still stood at 10 with just under seven minutes to play.
Brooklyn then scored the next 14 points and seized a shocking and sudden 93-89 lead with 2:01 to play.
The Nets produced points on six of 11 possessions during the spurt and benefited from five Thunder turnovers in that five-minute stretch, converting those giveaways into seven points.
“We just got to be better,” said Kevin Durant, who was held in check for the second straight game in the fourth quarter. “It’s tough to swallow losing at the buzzer like that, being up so much. They got momentum going into the fourth.
“We get too relaxed, man. We can’t keep doing that. We get too relaxed. A team’s down, you got to keep them down. That’s what teams do to us. When we’re down they’re going to kick us. Put their foot on our throat. We got to do the same thing.”
Once again, without star point guard Russell Westbrook, that’s proving to be quite the challenge.
The Thunder was outscored 29-16 in the final period.
After making five of its first six shots in the first five minutes of the frame, OKC missed six of its final eight shots and had five of its 14 second-half turnovers.
“We were just making bad plays,” Brooks said. “Uncharacteristic plays.”
They started early and stuck around late.