rmelo was on fire,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “Who cares what we did two year ago, three years ago and in Seattle? We’re focused on what we’re doing now.”
The Thunder assembled a fairly complete and controlling game against Denver, possibly even coming out with an early advantage on the impeding playoff chess match. Despite Denver sending five defenders at Durant in the first quarter, the Thunder’s two-time All-Star still scored 12 points on 6-for-9 shooting in the opening period. The Thunder’s lead stood at 11 after one quarter. Though Durant made just 4-of-12 shots the rest of the way, it was clear Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari , Al Harrington, Nene and Kenyon Martin combined won’t have the same impact on Durant as L.A. Lakers forward Ron Artest did in last year’s postseason.
Meanwhile, the Thunder’s continually improving defense made life miserable for Denver with sharp close-outs, rotations and help at the rim. More significantly, however, the Thunder made a commitment to transition defense and held the run-and-gun happy Nuggets to just eight fast break points.
“That was the No. 1 most important thing for us to win tonight was limiting them in transition,” said Thunder forward Nick Collison. “That’s how they generate so much offense. It’s something that’s not easy to do. We’ll play them again in a couple of days and we’ll have to try to do it again.”
The Thunder might never find an answer for Nuggets guard Ty Lawson, the 5-foot-11 speedster who scored a team-high 28 points by knifing into the paint at will. Russell Westbrook and Eric Maynor couldn’t stay in front of Lawson, and there might not be a player alive who can.
“We changed it up a few times, but he is quick and crafty,” Brooks said.
Westbrook struggled on both ends in his first crack at the new-look Nuggets. He scored 18 points but made just five of 17 shots. Maynor provided a steadier hand, coming off the bench late in the third quarter to turn a three-point deficit into an 11-point lead with 4:44 left to play. Maynor had seven points and three assists during the rally.
“Eric Maynor came in and did a fantastic job in that stretch of about eight minutes,” Brooks said. “I thought he really settled us down and made great decisions and was creating a lot of problems in the paint.”
The Thunder moved to 51-26, one win better than last year, but refused to show any signs of satisfaction for being on the cusp of a division title and home court advantage.
“Almost is not good until you get it,” Brooks said.
Blog: Darnell Mayberry's observations from Denver