Nuggets from my notebook from Saturday’s win over Denver.
- Tip of the cap to Thunder coach Scott Brooks for such a classy move after this one. Brooks began his post-game press conference by acknowledging the recent tragedy in Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony’s life. “First of all, my thoughts go out to Carmelo and his family,” Brooks said. “It’s a tough position for them to be in.”
- I thought this would be the night we finally saw Kevin Durant get 50. While it might sound crazy, it’s hard to believe he’s been in the league 3 1/2 years and hasn’t gotten it. That’s not a long time. But for a scorer like him, it seems he would have achieved that milestone by now. I’m going to go out on a limb (don’t know how far I’ll be out there though) and say he’s going to get it this season.
- Durant had a brilliant stretch in the post late in the first half. And it showed that his work in the post is paying off. With 4:53 left in the second quarter, Durant posted up J.R. Smith from left baseline. Rather than try to overpower the smaller but more likely stronger Smith, Durant bumped him once, spun the other way and fired. His jumper splashed straight through the net. Durant then hit Arron Afflalo with the same move on the Thunder’s next possession. Seconds later, the Thunder went back to the same play and the Nuggets sent a second and third defender. And when they did, Durant hit Russell Westbrook with a beautiful dime that would have ended in two points but Westbrook botched the layup.
- Durant’s passing throughout the game was on point tonight. The way he handled Denver’s double and triple teams was extremely impressive. He could have been selfish and tried to force his way to 50. But Durant made it a point after the game to do the exact opposite. Said KD: “I just didn’t want to force anything and mess the flow of the game up…The only thing I was thinking when I got the ball was hockey assists.”
- James Harden was huge tonight, too. When the Thunder went down by 10 early, Harden came off the bench and scored 14 of his 21 points in the second quarter. It helped pull the Thunder within two at the half. Brooks noted how much better Harden has been in December. “James has been good,” Brooks said. “He struggled in the first month. That’s well-documented. But in December, he’s playing the way we need him to play. He comes in and gives us some aggressive minutes on both ends of the floor.”
- Westbrook didn’t have the greatest game tonight. He finished with 19 points on 19 shots, many of them forced. But zero turnovers for Westbrook is always nice to see.
- The Thunder had just nine turnovers and dished out 22 assists. That’s a very nice ratio.
- Chris “Birdman” Andersen checked in late in the first quarter, and I seriously couldn’t stop staring at him. Dude’s neck tattoo is mesmerizing.
- Serge Ibaka was on the Cole Aldrich foul plan tonight. At one point, Ibaka had three fouls in three minutes. But Ibaka bounced back and had five rebounds and three blocks in the fourth quarter to help thwart the Nuggets’ rally. Said Brooks: “It didn’t affect his second half performance. He came out and was a presence defensively.”
- Nenad Krstic returned from a seven-game absence and had four points, eight rebounds and two assists. The most encouraging thing I saw was Krstic’s attempt to take a charge in the second half. That tells me the back is fine. “Nenad was good,” Brooks said. “Nenad gives us another good player on the floor. And it gives us a better bench because now you’ve got Serge and Nick (Collison) coming in…I thought Nenad was really good tonight. He played Nene very well.”
- Westbrook almost delivered referee Josh Tiven a haymaking body blow after his and one layup in the second half. Westbrook scored and was about to give a mean fist pump before realizing at the last second that Tiven was right in front of him. That could have been ugly.
- Nene is a strong, strong man! He looked like he was playing against his little brothers in the post, ripping the ball out of their hands and powering through them to get shots up at the rim. Nene had three three-point play opportunities in the first quarter alone. And he could have had a fourth had he not passed out of another post move that resulted in a foul.
- Eric Maynor had six points tonight, all within 3 minutes, 16 seconds of the start of the fourth quarter. And they were huge. It helped to push the Thunder’s lead from three to 10.
- For an upcoming story in The Oklahoman, John Rohde asked Kenyon Martin about Durant’s rip move. Martin gave an interesting answer. “Personally, I think they should take it out of basketball, but since Chauncey (Billups) does it a lot, I’ll be a little biased [smiling]. I don’t think that’s playing basketball, but it’s part of the game. You’ve got to abide by it and you’ve got to know who you’re playing. I think (Durant) does an excellent job no matter where your hand is. He’s so long. No matter if you have your hand back or not, he finds a way to do it.” Durant responded: “That’s not my call. They give it to me. I really never thought about it like that. When a guy does it on me, I don’t think it’s a good basketball play. But when I do it, it is. But like I said, it’s not my call. Once they take it out the game, that’s when I’ll stop doing it.”
- Is there a guy in the league quicker with the ball than Nuggets guard Ty Lawson?