Thunder Takes Out Denver, Moves Closer To Northwest Division Crown
News, notes and observations from Tuesday’s 101-94 win over the Denver Nuggets.
- With this win, the Thunder’s magic number for home court advantage is now one. That means a win Wednesday night against the Clippers will clinch it. Or, a loss by Denver on Wednesday at Dallas will suffice. I’d rather see the Thunder control its own destiny.
- The Thunder’s victory also snapped a 10-game Nuggets home winning streak, the last nine of their victories coming without Carmelo Anthony. It also was the franchise’s first win at Denver since March 2007, a streak of seven losses. The franchise lost those seven games by an average of 19.2 points.
- I really liked what Brooks said about the franchise’s recent history inside the Pepsi Center. “The way I look at, we lost to them in the first game here by five and we played a good game. Carmelo was on fire,” Brooks said. “Who cares what we did two year ago, three years ago and in Seattle? We’re focused on what we’re doing now.”
- Give Eric Maynor the game ball. He was the player of the game tonight. In a nine-minute stretch from the end of the third quarter until late in the fourth, he saved the Thunder from another second-half letdown. His decision-making, poise and control turned a three-point deficit into an nine-point lead by the time he sat. Maynor had seven points and three assists in that stretch. Brooks said he thought Maynor was “flawless” during that stretch. That is of course an overstatement, but Maynor wasn’t far from it.
- The most encouraging aspect of tonight’s game has to be how the Thunder controlled the pace. OKC didn’t let Denver turn this into a track meet and it didn’t get have to win a shootout. If the Thunder can do this in the playoffs, advantage Thunder.
- Denver had just eight fast break points. The Nuggets are capable of getting that many in a quarter. One thing that helped the Thunder was that it didn’t have a lot of bad turnovers that led to run out opportunities.
- Another thing the Thunder deserves credit for is controlling the glass. OKC out-rebounded Denver 50-41. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins combined for 25 boards. Ahem, did Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic ever do that? Did they ever come close?
- For the third straight game, Kevin Durant was on fire in the first quarter. And for the third straight game, Durant couldn’t stop chipping paint in the second half. With five games left, it might be important to erase that trend before postseason play begins.
- Tempers flared twice tonight and definitely got things geared up for this potential first-round series. Perk and Nene went toe-to-toe in the second quarter. Then, in the final 14 seconds, Durant shoved Danilo Gallinari after Gallinari walked up on him for some reason. Everyone in the Thunder locker room essentially downplayed the tension, but Brooks said tonight was a good test in terms of match the Nuggets physical play and he thought his team did a good job.
- Would you be surprised if the Nuggets didn’t give the Thunder any credit for this win?
- “I think we beat ourselves.” — Nuggets guard Ty Lawson.
- “We probably struggled tonight more than we have in a while.” — Nuggets coach George Karl.
- “We have to play more consistent during the 48 minutes.” — Nuggets forward Gallinari.
- With that being said, the Nuggets did miss nine free throws while the Thunder made more (27) than Denver attempted (26).
- Denver clearly wanted to give Durant a different dose of defenders early. The Nuggets had five defenders on KD in the first quarter alone — Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Al Harrington, Nene and Kenyon Martin. The strategy might help wear down Durant. But all five of them combined won’t have the same effect Ron Artest had on Durant in the playoffs last year.
- Look, I’m not trying to be hard on Russell Westbrook. But something is seriously up with him and it probably needs to be addressed in the offseason. Here’s the thing: 77 games into his third season, I can’t say that his decision-making has gotten that much better. It’s grown tremendously from his rookie season to this season. You can’t take that away from him. But his third-year development has left more to be desired. Westbrook can be an incredibly useful scorer thanks to his explosiveness. But it’s nights like tonight, when Russ doesn’t have his shot falling, that would be the perfect time for him to downshift and set up plays for his teammates. But he rarely, if ever, does that. Maybe he doesn’t know how yet. Either way, I think we know what measure of improvement to be on the look out for from Westbrook next season.
- After saying all that, the 20-footer that Westbrook drilled that pushed the Thunder’s lead to seven with 36.4 seconds left was cold-blooded. It takes guts for a player to struggle as much as Westbrook did tonight but rise to the occasion and knock down that shot.
- If this is indeed the first-round matchup, a very intriguing game within the game will be the reserve guards, James Harden and J.R. Smith. Both can be a difference-maker. Smith is the ultimate X-factor, and he appeared to be one early tonight. He scored four points and grabbed four rebounds in his first eight minutes. The Thunder didn’t have an answer for him. Harden and Daequan Cook are no match for Smith’s offensive abilities. Smith even blew by Thabo Sefolosha with the greatest of easy once. But for whatever reason, Karl subbed out Smith and really didn’t allow him to continue his hot start. The Thunder should be glad Karl didn’t.
- There might not be a team in the NBA that needs a new scoreboard worse than the Nuggets. Sacramento is up there, but the Kings have bigger fish to fry.
- The surprise of the night came with 2 1/2 minutes left when Nuggets fans stormed up the aisles. The Thunder was up just 91-80. This game was far from over. But you couldn’t tell Nuggets fans that. They were flying up the steps like a fire was inside the Pepsi Center. I couldn’t believe it. For all the talk about the Nuggets’ great home court advantage, their fans bailed on them with 2 1/2 minutes to go in a game that could have helped the home team stay in the race for fourth place and home court advantage. I hope I never see that in OKC. What made it so bad was the Nuggets only have about 35,000 3-point shooters sitting on their bench. They easily could have cut into that lead. And sure enough, they did, cutting it to four three times inside the final 30.5 seconds. Shame on the Nuggets faithful, I say.
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