With 3:28 left in the third quarter of Game 3 on Saturday night, point guard Russell Westbrook was whistled for a foul on an apparent steal that would have given OKC a breakaway layup and a 72-62 lead.
Westbrook argued the call and was slapped with a technical foul. Denver made the free throw and narrowed the deficit to 70-63. A dormant crowd suddenly awakened and roared even louder when Nuggets coach George Karl tactically inserted crowd favorite J.R. Smith into the game.
Smith would hit a game-tying 3-pointer roughly 2½ minutes later and the Nuggets closed out the quarter with an 11-1 run to take a 73-71 lead.
The Thunder regained its composure early in the fourth quarter, opening with a 15-5 spurt to take an 86-78 lead with 3:40 left and went on to post a 97-94 victory inside the Pepsi Center.
- The Thunder fouled with 1.0 second left at the end of the second quarter and 1.0 second left at the end of the third quarter. The Nuggets helped OKC out by missing four of five free throws.
- The crowd's frustration can be summed up with the Thunder leading 88-80 with 2½ minutes remaining. A frustrated Denver fan screamed of OKC, "They can do nothing wrong. Unreal. Unreal. … Punch 'em in the face."
- The Nuggets made 3 of 5 3-pointers in the first quarter and Smith hit back-to-back corner 3s to pull Denver within 95-94 with 14.6 seconds left, but Denver shot just 1 for 16 on all other attempts beyond the arc.
- During pregame 2½ hours before tip, rookie center Cole Aldrich and guard Nate Robinson partnered to beat center Byron Mullens and guard Royal Ivey in an intense best-of-seven series of 2-on-2. Aldrich and Robinson won 4 games to 3. Robinson was never quiet.
- The league's two highest free-throw shooting teams combined to shoot 88 free throws, but both struggled to convert at key moments. OKC shot 76.7 percent and Denver shot 66.7 percent.
NUGGETS FANS WAVE "TONY TOWELS"
Chesapeake Energy sponsored blue T-shirts on every seat during the first two games of the opening-round playoff series at Oklahoma City Arena.
For Game 3 in Denver on Saturday night, baby blue-colored towels were left on every seat inside the Pepsi Center.
Ironically, the towels were sponsored by "Anthony's Pizza & Pasta." The establishment is not owned by former Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony, who was traded away Feb. 22 and a source of aggravation for the franchise throughout the flirting process.
"There's an energy that's going to be on our side," Denver coach George Karl said, "but there's also an energy that's going to motivate the true competitor, and I think Oklahoma City has some guys who are going to enjoy playing in the moment. For us, hopefully it'll make us play with a little more confidence, a little more momentum. Instead of having five minutes of good basketball, can we make it eight or nine minutes?"
Thunder coach Scott Brooks stressed the importance of his team getting off to a good start on the road.
"It's one of the best crowds," Brooks said. "When I was here (as an assistant coach during) the playoffs, they were as loud as any building in the league … It's important to have a good start. But if you don't, you still have plenty of time to get back into it. We showed that in Game 1 when we were down 13."