The most worrisome matchup for the Thunder on Monday night turned out to be no big deal.
That’s because Reggie Jackson handled his business.
Jackson, starting in place of a resting Russell Westbrook, played Denver points guard Ty Lawson to a virtual draw while looking as comfortable as ever running with the first string in the Thunder’s 117-96 win over the Nuggets.
Jackson was in control the whole way, complementing another terrific effort by Kevin Durant by orchestrating OKC’s offense and making smart decisions in halfcourt sets while also supplying solid and steady defense at the point of the ball, the place the Thunder needed it most.
By the end of the night, Jackson scored 16 points with a game- and career-high 11 assists in 34 minutes. He made four of six shots, including all three of his 3-point attempts.
It was his second consecutive double-double, following a marvelous 25-point, 12-rebound performance Friday at Toronto, arguably his best game as a pro.
Lawson, a perennial Thunder pest, scored a team-high 25 points with seven assists. But unlike past meetings, Lawson wasn’t the same lightning bolt that burned the Thunder throughout with both transition buckets and blazing drives into the teeth of the defense. He was 5-for-11 from the field and 13 of 16 from the foul line in 33 minutes.
Jackson was pivotal in limiting Lawson, staying in front of him and stopping his slashes to the rim with textbook defense. When the Thunder switched or matched up with substitutions, Jackson was equally sound against Nuggets shooting guard Randy Foye and reserve Aaron Brooks.
“His defense on those little guards was pretty good,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
Brooks has made similar statements about Jackson since the Thunder’s win at Chicago. Perhaps non-coincidentally, that’s when the Thunder’s current four-game winning streak began.
Westbrook was held out for rest in two of those wins.
“He’s played well as a starter, and he’s played well as a guy coming off the bench,” Brooks said of Jackson. “He’s going to have to do that for a few more games. But I thought tonight’s game was one of his better floor games. He really got the guys involved and got them good looks.”
Jackson scored eight points with three assists in the first period, tag-teaming with Durant to pick apart the Nuggets defense. The two combined for seven of the Thunder’s 10 assists on 15 made field goals in the period.
Jackson was even better in quarter two.
He dished another five assists in his 10 minutes of work in that period, putting him one shy of his previous career high of nine assists.
With quality ball movement leading to balance, the Thunder opened a 41-24 lead after one quarter. OKC’s scoring total in the quarter tied a season-high for any period.
By halftime, the Thunder held a 72-58 lead that grew as large as 22.
Durant finished with 27 points while adding four rebounds and eight assists. Caron Butler came off the bench to score 23, his most in a Thunder uniform, and Serge Ibaka added 15 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots.
The Thunder will now travel to Dallas to face the Mavericks on Tuesday night. Westbrook will be back in the lineup.