DENVER — It was Jan. 20 when OKC last played Denver at Pepsi Center. The Thunder was the toast of the NBA with a 32-8 record and had beaten the Nuggets four days earlier by 20 points at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Denver was 24-18 at that point, nine games behind OKC in the Northwest Division, still recovering from the league's most brutal early road schedule and fresh off a loss at home against the then 7-29 Washington Wizards.
Sure, the Nuggets are tough to beat in the mile-high altitude, but this seemed the perfect time to catch them — tired and teetering on depression.
Sparked by the Corey Brewer's 15 fourth-quarter points, Denver led 107-96 with just three minutes left in regulation. That's when Russell Westbrook took several steps toward becoming an arch enemy of Nuggets fans.
It was a vintage night for Westbrook, which is to say he was a combination of Rocky Mountain High and Death Valley low.
By night's end, Westbrook had scored 36 points, drained 15 of 17 free throws, handed out nine assists, grabbed eight rebounds and committed seven turnovers. He had also blocked two shots, both of them half-court shots from the Nuggets' mascot, Rocky, where Westbrook jumped up and snared the ball directly in front of the rim while being cascaded by boos from the sellout crowd of 19,155.
“Russell made a lot of friends here,” Denver coach George Karl said sarcastically afterward. “He's a feisty guy who likes to create intensity. I like intensity.”
OKC's final three field goals in regulation were 3-pointers from Kevin Durant, Kevin Marin and Westbrook's game-tying bomb with 22.9 seconds left that wound up forcing overtime.
Three offensive fouls in the final three minutes of the extra period — all on illegal screens — proved to be the Thunder's undoing in a 121-118 overtime loss.