One streak continued.
Another came to an end.
The Thunder ended up on the wrong side of that equation.
Oklahoma City suffered a 114-104 loss to Denver on Tuesday inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, bringing an end to the Thunder’s 20-game home winning streak against Western Conference opponents.
The Nuggets, meanwhile, won for the 13th straight game and the third time in this season’s four meetings against OKC.
Kevin Durant scored a game-high 34 points with seven rebounds and five assists, and Russell Westbrook added 25 points with four rebounds and six assists. But against a high-octane Nuggets squad, that tandem wasn’t nearly enough to keep up. Kevin Martin, who scored 14 points off the bench, was the only other Thunder player in double figures.
“You got to give them a lot of credit. They’re playing the best basketball right now in the West,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We didn’t do some of the things that we went into the game trying to do.”
There was indeed much that OKC didn’t do right. But mostly, the Thunder simply succumbed to its opponent’s style. Everything that led to Tuesday’s defeat could be found in the first half.
For a team that supposedly prides itself on the defensive end, the Thunder looked awfully interested in turning this matchup into the run-and-gun game most figured it would be. And on this night, the Nuggets, despite playing on the second night of a back-to-back, easily were the better team.
“There’s no question that they’re a very fast team,” Brooks said. “They’re third in the league in scoring. We’re second in the league in scoring. We both play fast. We want to make it a defensive game, no question. We want to make sure that we are locking them up defensively and not letting them get into their zone. But they did a good job. They were attacking on makes and misses.”
When the Thunder went into the locker room at halftime, the team carried with it only a one-point lead after 24 minutes of sloppy play (10 turnovers), rickety defense (44 Nuggets paint points) and faulty rebounding (10 Denver offensive boards).
Together, it resulted in a 66-65 lead, the most points the Thunder has allowed in any half this season.
All that saved OKC from staring at a sizable deficit was a scorching shooting half. The Thunder connected on 24 of its 44 first-half field goals (54.5 percent), including four of 10 from 3-point range.
Durant and Westbrook had 18 points apiece, and Martin had 12 points on just three shots. But no other Thunder player had scored more than six. The Nuggets, on the other hand, had seven players with at least seven points and used that balanced attack to keep the Thunder’s defense guessing.
Sure enough, when the Thunder started missing shots, the score suddenly flipped. Oklahoma City missed nine of its first 11 field-goal attempts to start the third and watched Denver race to a 15-4 run that built an 80-70 lead.
Denver extended that margin to as many as 13 while the Thunder made just six of 20 shots in the quarter. After combining to make 13 of 23 shots in the first two periods, Durant and Westbrook went 3-for-11 in the third.
The offense that once sizzled had fizzled. Rather than running set plays to get quality shots, the Thunder started scrambling, settling for wild slashes into the lane for, if players were lucky, kick-outs to shooters. Most possessions had little to no ball movement and, ultimately, ended in missed shots.
“I think we got away from making the extra pass in the second half,” said Thabo Sefolosha, “and that was the difference between the first and second half.”
In spite of all its shortcomings, the Thunder managed to cut the deficit to seven entering the final period and mounted a mini rally once there, closing the gap to five with 4:08 to play. Denver, however, didn’t have any trouble scoring down the stretch and outscored the Thunder 12-7 the rest of the way to hold on for the win.
Denver finished with 72 points in the paint and had six players scored in double figures, led by Ty Lawson’s 25 points.
“It’s easy to fall into that trap,” said Durant of Denver’s fast-paced approach. “That’s what they do. They get up and down the court. Our game is a little different. We want to run, but we want to run off of our defense. Those guys run off makes, misses of course and turnovers. But they continually run. They pass the ball well and they score a lot in the paint. So we fell into the trap and we couldn’t play that game with them.”