DENVER — When J.R. Smith stepped into a rhythmic 3-pointer from the left corner, drilling the money ball directly in front of the Thunder’s bench, he turned to his home fans and let out a vicious roar. The 3-ball put Denver ahead by nine with 7:11 remaining. The Pepsi Center crowd erupted, standing and showering the arena with a heartfelt applause in an incredible display of its appreciation for its never-say-die Nuggets. Right then, the pressure of a closeout game, on the road no less, became crystal clear. The next seven minutes would be the most difficult the Thunder has ever seen. And the boys in blue just couldn’t quite survive. The Nuggets avoided a sweep in this best-of-seven series with a 104-101 win in Game 4 on Monday night inside the Pepsi Center to pull to 3-1 in the series. The series now shifts back to Oklahoma City for Game 5 on Wednesday night. When it does, the Thunder can take solace in how it stuck with the Nuggets despite 48 minutes of sloppy, and at times, selfish basketball. The Thunder committed 15 turnovers leading to 16 Nuggets points. And when Thunder players weren’t giving away the basketball, they were playing like anything but a team united or poised to punch its first ever win in a playoff series. “We knew going into this series that every game was going to be tough,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “Trust me, we didn’t go into this series thinking we were going to sweep this team.” Russell Westbrook happened to be the face of the Thunder’s misery on Monday. The Thunder’s starting point guard scored 30 points on 30 shots and air-balled a potential game-tying 3-pointer with 7.9 seconds remaining. Westbrook wasn’t alone. For much of the night, it appeared as if the Thunder succumbed to the Pepsi Center crowd, a shocking display of a lack of composure by what has been a mature group. The Thunder came in with an understanding of how intense this game would be. Thunder players and coaches knew the Nuggets would play with passion Monday to avoid a series sweep. They knew the crowd would be animated and loud. The atmosphere clearly helped the Nuggets play inspired ball, and they admitted as much afterward. “There was a lot of emotion involved,” Lawson said. “This was the biggest game of my life.” The Thunder just didn’t have enough in the tank to eek out a win. Kevin Durant scored a game-high 31 points on 8-for-18 shooting, and Serge Ibaka was the only other player in double figure scoring. His 13 points and 14 rebounds marked his third straight double-double. “You got to give credit to Denver,” Durant said. “They played a great game. We’re looking forward to Game 5.” Denver benefited from its best balanced attack of the series. Despite just 38.6 percent shooting, the Nuggets exploited Oklahoma City’s defense unlike any other game in this series. Six Nuggets scored in double digits, led by Ty Lawson’s 27 points. The Nuggets had more success than ever from beyond the arc, making 9-for-19 from deep while turning it over a series-low eight times. “We didn’t get a monkey off our back,” said Lawson. “We got a 20-ton gorilla off our back.” And by losing, the Thunder gave Denver exactly what it did not want to. Hope. “See you soon,” Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari promised his fans as he wrapped up his on-court interview that blared over the P.A. system after the game.