DENVER — Get ready for the second round, Thunder fans.
This first-round tilt-a-whirl with the Nuggets ain't coming back to Oklahoma City.
The Thunder won a 97-94 slugfest Saturday night, taking an even more commanding lead in this series and leaving no doubt that it is on its way to a sweep.
The Nuggets are fried.
That's because the Thunder took a 3-0 lead in this series, scored its first road playoff victory since the franchise moved to Oklahoma City, but wasn't even close to being perfect.
Far from it.
“I thought we made some plays down the stretch to get that lead,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said, “and I thought we made some plays down the stretch to almost give up that lead.”
The Thunder's warts in this game were many.
Kevin Durant scored a game-high 26 points, but he had one of his poorest shooting nights in weeks. He was only 7 of 22.
The rest of the team's shooting went the way of Durant. The Thunder made only 36.2 percent of their field-goal attempts.
Poor shooting wasn't the only problem for the Thunder big men. They fouled. And fouled. And fouled. Three of the big men had two fouls each before the end of the first quarter.
You began to wonder if having Byron Mullens and Cole Aldrich inactive might come back to haunt the Thunder.
Who would've thought that could ever happen?
The Thunder wasn't all bad, of course. You don't win a road playoff game without some serious contributions. Serge Ibaka played inspired basketball, scoring 22 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. The Thunder defense was stout, holding the Nuggets to 37.2 percent shooting.
No better defense was played than on the game's final play.
The Nuggets had a chance to tie the game and send it to overtime, but James Harden stuck on J.R. Smith like a wetsuit. When the Nuggets sharpshooter finally got the ball and got up a shot, Harden played close-up-but-straight-up defense.
No foul. No basket.
Series over, too.
I'm sure the Nuggets are going to say they lost because they missed too many free throws and committed too many turnovers. They missed 15 of their 45 free-throw attempts. They committed 12 turnovers, but every last one of them seemed to be costly. They're going to say those are correctable mistakes going into Game 4.
First of all, the Nuggets are a poor free-throw shooting team.
They haven't shot free throws well in the first three games of this series, and they aren't going to shoot them well in Game 4. They are who they are.
As for the turnovers, it's one thing to struggle to take care of the ball on the road. It's another to falter at home.
The Nuggets faltered badly. They did not play like a team desperate to win a game in this playoff series, to defend home court, to take a stand.
They played like a team outmatched.
The Thunder is just better than the Nuggets, and it is proving it every game.
This series isn't coming back to Oklahoma City.
The Thunder, though, is returning as the most impressive playoff team in the Western Conference. No other team in the conference has been as good as these guys.
The Lakers lost their opener on home hardwood against the Hornets, the Mavs find themselves tied with the Blazers after blowing a 23-point lead Saturday, and the top-seeded Spurs find themselves in a 2-1 hole against the Grizzlies.
As the No. 4 seed, the Thunder was supposed to be in the most competitive series.
Instead, it is going to win in a sweep.
Go ahead and make other plans for Wednesday night, Thunder fans. There'll be no game downtown. There'll be no need for Game 5.
This series ends Monday night.