Observations from the Thunder’s 103-90 victory Thursday night at Denver:
- Tuesday’s 104-103 setback to Houston unquestionably was the Thunder’s worst loss of the season. OKC blew an 11-point lead in the final 2½ minutes, and blew it at home. The manner in which the Thunder lost and the place it lost, it couldn’t have been much worse. That being said, not only was it imperative that OKC beat Denver on Thursday night, it was important how the Thunder looked doing it. OKC’s 103-90 victory indeed was impressive. Tuesday night’s loss is not forgotten, but at least it’s in the rearview window and could become a fleeting memory if OKC can sweep San Antonio and Portland in The Peake on Friday and Sunday night.
- Ignore Thabo Sefolosha’s stat line Thursday night (three points and one assist in 12 minutes, 27 seconds). His presence was undeniably huge. The Thunder had its identity back. Remember, OKC is 17-2 with Sefolosha in the starting lineup and 16-8 without him. “The chemistry is going to get back to what it was before,” Kevin Durant said.
- Daequan Cook isn’t going to say anything about preferring to not start, but he immediately seemed at ease coming off the bench and getting into the flow, scoring 11 points in 16 minutes.
- At 11:15 a.m., Denver coach George Karl spoke of how much better his team would match up defensively with Danilo Gallinari and Nene’ Hilario back in the lineup after missing the season’s previous meeting against OKC. Less than two hours later, Nene’ had been dealt to the Washington Wizards before the NBA trade deadline. Why would Karl bring up Nene’ if he knew he wouldn’t be playing? Maybe Karl didn’t think the trade would go through. Denver media expressed shock at the trade.
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks said he doesn’t believe a shortened season and limited practice time necessarily led to fewer trades. “There’s not a lot of practices, you can say that, but you can blend it in,” Brooks said. “NBA players and coaches, they figure it out and teach on the fly. … You have to deal with it and integrate it as quickly as possible. It’s tough, but there’s enough time to work it out.”
- The best thing about Nick Collison, and there are many things, is he’s a straight shooter. When the Thunder stinks, Collison will tell it to you straight. And when OKC excels, Collison will do the same. Keeping that in mind, here is what Collison thought of Russell Westbrook’s performance against Denver: “Russell deserves a lot of credit. He defended really well. He got over every screen. I thought he was great tonight. He set the tone. So much of it was at the point of the ball. If we can avoid having to help so much (defensively) and avoid breakdowns at the point of the ball, we’re a lot better, especially against a team like Denver. He’s still playing on a sore ankle and he showed a lot tonight. He was great, and (Nuggets point guard Ty) Lawson is tough, man. He’s one of the toughest to keep out of the lane. I was impressed with Russell.”
- Speaking of Westbrook, he is starting to suffer the consequences for constantly whining for fouls and flashing his six-shooters when making 3-pointers. Denver fans started booing Westbrook the first time he touched the ball. Those boos quickly turned to groans as Westbrook buried his first three jump shots, but he made just 4 of his final 14 attempts to finish 7 for 17. With 7½ minutes left in the game, Westbrook was booed loudly when he did a double-clutch reverse dunk well after a whistle had stopped play. One section in the stands started chanting “over-rated,” which quickly fizzled out. Fans even booed when Westbrook was shaken up after being fouled with 2:41 remaining. With 2:25 left in the contest, Westbrook had a breakaway, but laid in the ball and placed it on the floor, drawing more boos.
- I’ve never heard fans boo more than in Denver. They spend much more energy booing than they do cheering for the Nuggets.
- The Thunder had a lengthy film session prior to the Thursday morning’s shoot-around, during which the normally mild-mannered Brooks wasn’t particularly kind. “We watched a lot of film and saw how bad we were,” Collison said. “Defensively, we’ve been really bad. We were a different team tonight. So now the key for us is that needs to become a habit. It can’t be just because we got embarrassed. Hopefully guys will see how fun it is to play like that and hopefully we’ll keep it up.”
- Speaking of the mild-mannered Brooks, he was slapped for a technical foul with 1:45 left in the second quarter when Ibaka was whistled for his third foul. Brooks was right. It was an atrocious call. Two trips before that was a delayed foul called on James Harden after the Thunder had gotten the ball back and was headed the other direction. It was Brooks’ second technical of the season.
- Brooks understandably had been frustrated with his team’s lackluster play as of late. He was particularly dejected after Tuesday night’s loss. “Didn’t get much sleep that night,” Brooks admitted during Thursday morning’s shoot-around.
- Man, there’s a lot of ice being used inside the OKC locker room. Lots of aches and pains. These truly are the dog days of the season.
- Thunder rookie Reggie Jackson never became a fan of the Denver Nuggets after moving to Colorado Springs in the sixth grade – he liked the Chicago Bulls and Portland TrailBlazers – but he performed extremely well in his home state, finishing with five points, a career-high five rebounds and four assists. “Reggie played phenomenal basketball tonight,” Durant said.
- The biggest individual stat difference from the first meeting between OKC and Denver to the second meeting obviously involved Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka. Durant scored 51, Westbrook scored 40 and Ibaka had a triple-double in a 124-118 victory in OKC. Playfully asked if he had the same plan for Thursday, Brooks said during the morning shoot-around: “That was a good game plan. It worked last game. It’s going to be tough to pull that one out again. That was a spectacular game. One of those games no one deserved to lose.”
- The biggest team stat difference from the first meeting to the second meeting was the Nuggets scored 20 fewer points in the paint thanks to the Thunder taking better care of the ball (13 turnovers; just five in the second half) and not allowing Denver to get easy baskets off OKC’s carelessness. The Nuggets also had 15 second-chance points, 10 fewer than the previous meeting.
- The sequence of the game came with 3:41 left in the third quarter: An Ibaka block into the waiting hands of Durant, who fed Westbrook, who fed Harden for an ally-oop to make the score 70-57. Breathtaking.
- The Thunder might have struggled a bit lately, but there has hardly been a significant demise in its stature. Despite being just 4-3 in its last seven starts, OKC still has the best record in Western Conference at 33-10 (second-best in the NBA to Chicago’s 36-9) and leads second-place San Antonio by four games heading into Friday night’s game at The Peake. The Thunder is 15-7 on the road (easily the best record in the West) and is 18-3 at home (second-best to the 18-2 Los Angeles Lakers).