Nets rally past Thunder in Mexico City
Caris LeVert spent the first anniversary of his NBA debut 7,382 feet above sea level.
He celebrated the occasion by delivering the best performance of his brief career in a foreign country.
LeVert came off the bench and posted his first career double-double with 21 points and 10 assists as the Brooklyn Nets rallied from a 16-point deficit and beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 100-95 Thursday night at the NBA Global Games in Mexico City.
Playing in his 81st career game, LeVert tied a career high with 30 minutes because starting point guard Spencer Dinwiddie was in foul trouble all night. He shot 6 of 10, grabbed five rebounds and did not commit a turnover.
According to STATS, LeVert is the first reserve to collect at least 20 points, 10 assists and five rebounds without a turnover since the start of the 1985-86 season.
“My teammates got a lot of confidence in me,” LeVert said in his on-court interview with the YES Network. “I’m just trying to make the right plays out there.”
LeVert made a handful of the right plays, especially on defense as the Nets held the Thunder to 16 points in the fourth quarter.
He successfully shadowed Russell Westbrook at times as the Nets (10-14) completed their biggest comeback since rallying from 18 points down to beat the Los Angeles Clippers in double overtime on Nov. 29, 2017.
“We played better defense,” LeVert said. “That was it. We slowed Russ down a little bit, and that kind of helped us.”
Westbrook led all scorers with 31 points but shot 10 of 27 and scored only five points in the fourth quarter. After the game, the Thunder said Westbrook sustained a right hip contusion and also was battling an illness.
The Nets held a 94-91 lead with 2:11 remaining when LeVert forced Westbrook into a turnover, the star guard throwing the ball out of bounds near midcourt. Brooklyn capitalized when Dinwiddie drove by Andre Roberson and converted a two-handed dunk over Steven Adams with 1:51 remaining.
Westbrook missed a 3-pointer with 63 seconds left that would have cut Brooklyn’s lead to two. The Nets still held a five-point lead when LeVert’s defense forced Westbrook to pass with about 30 seconds remaining. Alex Abrines missed a reverse layup with 21.2 seconds to go, and Roberson’s put-back was blocked by LeVert.
LeVert gained possession, and he converted four free throws in the final 18 seconds.
“It feels great, the atmosphere was crazy,” LeVert said. “It kind of felt like a Final Four game, but we’re just glad we got the win tonight.”
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 17 points and Allen Crabbe contributed 15 as the Nets won consecutive games for the second time this season. The Nets competed with 10 available players after trading Trevor Booker to the Philadelphia 76ers for Jahlil Okafor and releasing Sean Kilpatrick.
“I feel like we’re improving,” Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I feel like we’re getting better game by game.”
The Thunder also played short-handed as Paul George sat with a calf injury and Jerami Grant sat with a hip injury.
Adams had 12 points and 14 rebounds while Carmelo Anthony finished 11 points and 11 rebounds. Anthony shot 5 of 20, and the Thunder wound up at 38.8 percent.
Oklahoma City (11-13) also dropped its eighth straight road game and blew its seventh double-digit lead of the season.
The Thunder held a 16-point advantage late in the first quarter, but the Nets gradually came back. Oklahoma City was up by nine at halftime and took a 79-74 lead into the fourth but did not lead after Westbrook’s free throw with 7:38 to go.
Brooklyn went on top for good at 87-85 on a 3-pointer by Crabbe on its next possession. The Thunder missed six consecutive shots until Westbrook’s 16-footer made it 93-87 with 4:54 left, but they missed 10 of their next 12 shots as the Nets sealed it.
“I thought the biggest challenge was, if you look at our possessions, they were really, really good when we got downhill (with dribble penetration),” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “When we didn’t get downhill, we really struggled.”
NOTES: Brooklyn G D’Angelo Russell (right knee) is on the trip to Mexico, but coach Kenny Atkinson said he has not started running. Russell underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on Nov. 17. ... F/G Andre Roberson started in the Thunder frontcourt for F Paul George (calf) while Alex Abrines made his seventh career start at shooting guard and scored five points in 25 minutes. ... Nets F Quincy Acy and C Tyler Zeller opposed each other in Mexico City on Dec. 3, 2015, when Acy was with Sacramento and Zeller was with Boston. ... Okafor and G Nik Stauskas will not play in the games in Mexico City, the second of which has the Nets facing the Miami Heat on Saturday. ... The Thunder play at Memphis on Saturday. ... NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the league is interested in placing a G-League team in Mexico City.