Oklahoma City Thunder: Nuggets sink Thunder on late bucket

Ty Lawson sinks 21-foot basket with 0.2 left as Denver beats OKC, draws within five games of first place
BY JOHN ROHDE, Staff Writer, jrohde@opubco.com Published: March 2, 2013

DENVER – Friday was a night of struggles for the Thunder.

OKC struggled defensively, struggled offensively, even struggled shooting free throws.

Despite all this pain and suffering, and despite facing one of the NBA’s hottest teams the past month or so, it still took a 21-footer with 0.2 seconds remaining for the Denver Nuggets to topple the Thunder 105-103 at Pepsi Center.

Point guard Ty Lawson was 4 for 13 from the field when he hit the game-winner over the outstretched arm of defender Thabo Sefolosha, and in the process became the only Denver starter to score in double-digits while concluding an odd game of severe mismatches between starters and bench players.

The OKC bench was outscored 71-11, which in turn meant Nuggets starters were outscored 92-34.

The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for OKC (42-16) while the Nuggets (38-22) won for the 14th time in their last 18 starts to pull within five games of the Thunder in the Northwest Division.

In the midst of OKC’s all-out search for better consistency on defense during the past month, this night marked a rare occasion when the Thunder’s offense frantically scrambled to keep pace.

After hitting seven of its first nine shots from the floor, OKC missed 14 of 16 shots during one stretch to find itself down by a dozen points. This coincided with the Nuggets taking flight with the best fast-break game in the NBA.

Denver entered the game averaging nearly 11 points more than any other team in points-in-the-paint (57.4). Paint points include fast-break points and the Nuggets also lead the league in that category (19.5) while being second in points off turnovers (19.5).

Friday night was more of the same as the Nuggets outscored the Thunder 60-46 in the paint, 20-16 in fast-break points and 19-15 off turnovers.

In a shocking development, the Thunder was unable to overcome poor free-throw shooting. After draining 130 of 138 (.942) free throws in the previous five games, OKC uncharacteristically misfired at the line by converting 24 of 34 (.706).

With “boos” cascading from a hostile sellout crowd of 19,521, Thunder villain Russell Westbrook poured in a game-high 38 points, which included 15 in the first quarter.

“Russell was great, making the right plays,” said teammate Kevin Durant, who had 25 points, 14 rebounds tied the score at 103 by banking in a 10-footer with 17.6 seconds left before Lawson’s heroics. “When a guy’s got it going, you’ve got to keep feeding him and that’s what we did.”

In response to Westbrook blocking two half-court shot by Nuggets mascot “Rocky” during OKC’s last visit to Pepsi Center, fans booed Westbrook at every opportunity – during pre-game introductions, while he was dribbling and also at the free-throw line, where Westbrook went 12 for 17 (.706).

The Thunder jumped out to a 17-6 lead after the first four minutes and led 29-21 with 57.9 seconds left in the first quarter. That’s when the Nuggets went on a 16-0 run in a span of just 3:18 – primarily against the OKC bench – to lead 37-29 with 9:31 left in the second quarter.

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