Bad news for the Nuggets. Russell Westbrook swished a 3-pointer 44 seconds into the game. Then Kevin Durant did the same half a minute later.
Worse news for the Nuggets. Westbrook and Durant didn't stay hot. Didn't need to.
The Thunder routed Denver 106-89 Wednesday night in Game 2, an impressive display of playoff basketball that shouted for two questions to be answered.
Is this notion, floated by Nugget coach George Karl, that while the Thunder has the stars, Denver has the team, wetter than a Wilson Chandler jumper?
Is this series over?
Your answers are yes to the former and maybe, probably, almost surely, 94 percent certainty to the latter.
That's the rate at which NBA teams advance after going up two games to none in a playoff series.
The Thunder has the better team, the better matchup, the better health. Exactly how can it lose this series?
“Good question,” Durant said while studiously thinking about it. “If we come out sluggish, if we come out complacent, thinking those guys are going to lay down, it'll be tough to win.”
OK. Exactly when has the Thunder done that in the last two years?
“I don't worry about that,” Durant admitted. “We go out and play hard.”
In the last 16 days, the Thunder has beaten the Nuggets four times, twice in meaningful regular-season games, twice in the playoffs. The scores have been 101-94, 104-89, 107-103, 106-89. In those four games, the Thunder has trailed 43:19 of the 192 minutes played, most of it in that tight Game 1.
And Denver's supposed strength, depth, has been exposed. Karl played his starters an average of 32:20 per man Wednesday night. Thunder coach Scotty Brooks, who didn't clear his bench in the final minutes, played his starters an average of 28:42.
The naked truth: The Thunder has more good players than do the Nuggets. Maybe it gets pretty even if or when Denver's Arron Afflalo returns from injury, but can we scrap this idea that Nick Collison, James Harden, Eric Maynor, Nazr Mohammed and Daequan Cook are somehow inferior to the Nugget reserves?
Karl has two vaunted role players he is at times loath to play, J.R. Smith and the Birdman.
“They do have a deep bench, but I like our bench, too,” said Mohammed. “We have guys that fit the pieces. We play really well together.”
Now that stuff about the stars? That was on target. Durant and Westbrook didn't combine for 72 points like they did in Game 1; they managed just 44 total on 14 of 33 shooting.
But when they were needed, Durant and Westbrook stood ready. Denver climbed back from a 26-point deficit to trail just 86-76 with 8:32 left in the game. Durant and Westbrook followed with 11 straight Thunder points, the final two on a Durant dunk off Cook's missed 3-pointer, giving OKC a 97-80 lead.
Give the Nuggets credit. They didn't quit. No surprise there. They didn't quit when Carmelo Anthony tried to submarine their season. They didn't quit when the Carmelo trade seemed to doom Denver to mediocrity. And they didn't quit when it was 43-17 Wednesday night and blue-bedecked Boomtown threatened to blow the arena's roof higher than that crane atop the Devon Tower.
Denver kept trying to make this a game. Cut the deficit to 12 late in the second quarter. To 13 early in the third. To 10 before Westbrook's and Durant's heroics.
“A three-ball would go in, or an offensive rebound would break our heart,” Karl said. “That's what happens when you try to come back from 25 down.”
Let's stop thinking Karl is reinventing the wheel with this idea of a 10-man team of virtual equal players. These Nuggets have scratched their way here because they've got a couple of good point guards, a couple of good big men and a lot of heart.
Denver has had an amazing season, but now the Nuggets are starting to run out of gas, as the first 16 minutes showed Wednesday night.
The series is over. Ninety-four percent sure.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.