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Thunder Takes Game 3 In Denver

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: April 12, 2013 at 6:09 pm •  Published: April 24, 2011

Notes and observations from Saturday’s Game 3 97-94 win over the Denver Nuggets

  • It’s over. Game. Set. Match. The Nuggets are done. Cooked. Finished. There is no way the Thunder is going to lose four straight to Denver. No. Way. Not with two of those potential games being in Oklahoma City. That’s the beauty of being up 3-0 like the Thunder now is after Saturday’s convincing victory.
  • I use the word convincing because, for the first time, Denver had no excuses. The Nuggets were healthy. They were at home. They got off to a good start. And they led at the start of the fourth quarter. What the Thunder did by notching a win in the Nuggets’ building was prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it is the better team.
  • The ugly truth for Nuggets fans is slowly seeping in. You can feel the resignation sweeping through this city. Everyone is now coming to grips with the fact that it’s over. The Nuggets had a nice run at the end of the regular season. But this is a flawed team and one that has no shot of slaying a rising Western Conference giant.
  • One Nuggets fan seated two seats from me provided a verbal moment of realization. It was the ultimateconcession tactic. Knowing full well who I wrote for, he leaned over to me with about four minutes left in the game and said, ‘Do you guys have Windows 97 in Oklahoma yet?’ Poor guy.
  • Nuggets fans should be ashamed of themselves for leaving early tonight. The same fan from the previous bullet had asked me earlier if the Thunder fans were better than the Nuggets fans. I hesitated and had to think about it but then sided with Thunder nation. Seeing fans saddle up their coats and excuse themselves only sealed that stance as truth.
  • What we saw tonight was a classic case of exactly how beneficial the Thunder’s mid-season trade was. One not-so-small perk to OKC’s two deadline-day deals was the sudden ability to play any style. The Thunder adjusted terrifically tonight. When the game turned into a defensive slug fest, it didn’t matter. The Thunder still had success. For as explosive as Denver can be offensively, it’s not a given that the Nuggets would have had an advantage if it turned into a shootout. The Thunder can play any way, with anyone. That’s a tremendous asset to have as the Thunder marches on in these playoffs.
  • And speaking of playing any style. How impressive was the Thunder’s ability to adapt on the fly and adjust to early foul trouble to its big men? Kendrick Perkins picked up two quick fouls. No problem. Nick Collison is whistled for two cheap ones. It’s nothing. Nazr Mohammed can’t avoid the refs and gets tagged with two. Don’t worry. When that trio found itself in foul trouble, the Thunder simply plugged Kevin Durant in at power forward and kept right on going. (Side note: that’s another maneuver that wasn’t so popular during the regular season but is paying off now. The Nuggets have no answer for KD at the 4.) The Thunder will be incredibly tough for everyone to match up with.
  • Durant had a game-high 26 points but didn’t have the best of games offensively. He shot just 7-for-22 from the field and never found his rhythm. The Nuggets were sending double teams his way, but Durant also missed a few shots he normally makes. But you got to love this from KD: “It’s all about wins in the playoffs. It doesn’t matter if I shoot 7-for-22 or 22-for-22. We got the win.”
  • Serge Ibaka was clearly the player of the game. The guy just keeps on getting better. His final line tonight: 22 points, 16 rebounds, four blocked shots. The man made six of 13 shots and calmly netted all 10 of his foul shots! Offensively, Ibaka’s performance was impressive because he manufactured points without having to demand the ball. He scored on putbacks and by putting in the occasional mid-range jumper. He worked his way to the foul line and took advantage of his touches in the paint. Defensively, Ibaka was protecting the rim, altering twice as many shots it seems as he blocked while cleaning the glass to help the Thunder again control the boards. Said Thunder coach Scott Brooks: “Really, what he does is cover up for our mistakes.”
  • Russell Westbrooknearly cost the Thunder the game…and then he saved it for Oklahoma City. When Westbrook picked up a technical foul with about 3 1/2 minutes remaining in the third, it sparked an 11-1 run that Denver used to close the period with to take  a 73-71 lead into the fourth. Then Westbrook scored 13 fourth-quarter points, scoring on foul shots, driving layups and pull-up jumpers. The scoring stood out. But Westbrook’s rebounding was just as big. He pulled down six of his nine boards in the final period, keeping offensive possessions alive at times and closing out defensive possessions at others. Westbrook’s biggest board came on an offensive rebound of a fade away by Durant midway through the fourth. Westbrook corralled the loose ball and drove in for a layup and got the and one. The three-point play put the Thunder ahead three. OKC never trailed from there
  • The Nuggets shot themselves in the foot at the end of the third quarter with missed foul shots. Denver had a chance to take a five-point lead into the fourth quarter but saw it remain at two because of three consecutive missed free throws. It was unbelievable stuff. After Raymond Felton stole the ball from Durant, he sped the other way and was fouled by KD on a layup attempt. Durant didn’t like something, either a no-call on the offensive end or what he thought was a bogus call on the defensive end. KD picked up a tech, but J.R. Smith missed the one shot. Felton then missed both free throws. Make those and the Nuggets would have closed the third on a 14-1 run and had all kinds of momentum going into the fourth.
  • Free throws have been the Nuggets biggest problem in this series. It’s cost them big time. Denver went 30-for-45 tonight and is now just 79-for-115 from the stripe. That’s 69 percent. It’s times like these when you appreciate the Thunder’s foul shooting even more.
  • Can’t believe there were a combined 88 foul shots attempted in this one. Too much. Lay off the whistles, would ya?
  • Both team’s fan bases can gripe about the officiating in this one. Nothing more you can say about it. Gotta give the refs credit for reviewing and correctly waiving off Nene’s dunk midway through the third, though. It was clearly a shot clock violation live, and the refs got it right when the looked at the replay.
  • The Thunder did so many things right tonight, just about everything it needed to do. The Thunder got off to a good start (scoring the first four points and leading 24-20 late in the opening period). The Thunder took the crowd out of it early. OKC limited the Nuggets in transition (eight fast break points by Denver). The boys controlled the paint (32 paint points by the Nuggets). They closed out on shooters (the Nuggets went 6-for-23 from deep, most of those coming in the first few and closing minutes). They responded well to adversity (overcoming two Nuggets runs in the first quarter and the big one to end the third).  And they took care of the ball (only 11 turnovers leading to five points).
  • If you listened to the Nuggets coming into this series and after the first two games, Arron Afflalo was made out to be some sort of savior. Denver radio personalities apparently bought into that belief, with many hosts I heard talking like Afflalo was going to be a difference-maker. From everything I heard, Afflalo was supposed to be the defensive stopper for Westbrook and, according to one radio personality, serve as the Nuggets late game closer. Hello???? We’re talking about Arron Afflalo!! Afflalo actually got off to a blistering start, scoring nine first-quarter points largely because Thabo Sefolosha seemingly refused to guard him. Then he turned into, well, Arron Afflalo. Westbrook was abusing him at the other end, and Afflalo scored just four more points in the final three quarters. But hey, his 13 points set a playoff career high.
  • Afflalo doesn’t think it’s over. “If you think we’re going to quit because (we’re down 3-0) you’re making a huge mistake.” I wonder if three of his teammates share that same belief.
  • I’m a fan of Danilo Gallinari. But he’s been nothing but terrible in this series. In Game 1 he actually wasn’t bad. But the last two games he’s been a no-show.
  • Let’s throw Wilson Chandler in that boat as well. Matter of fact, Chandler is actually driving the boat. Chandler is averaging 5.3 points on 25 percent shooting.
  • If anyone thinks James Harden fouled J.R. Smith on the potential game-tying 3-point attempt in the final seconds, you’re wrong. End of story.
  • Monday’s game should be a good test for the Thunder. The close-out game is notorious for being the toughest game in a series. It’ll be interesting to see how the Thunder responds. I originally picked the Thunder in 5 largely because I thought the Nuggets would be good enough to win at least one on their home court. But also because closing a series on an opponent’s home floor is no easy task. We’ll see just how good the Thunder is Monday. A side benefit to taking care of business Monday is two additional days of rest in addition to whatever amount the Thunder would already get before the second round. And it should be plenty. The Memphis-San Antonio series looks like it’s going 7.

-DM-

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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