Considering what Oklahoma City was going up against tonight, a 10-point loss really ain’t all that bad. Coming in Denver had won seven straight, was 31-8 at home and was sitting squarely as the second seed in the West.
And of course this was the Thunder’s fourth consecutive loss and the seventh in eight games, but this one was close throughout. Which is better than not being close at all. Denver didn’t take its largest lead of four until late in the third quarter. The Nuggets stretched it to 10 early in the fourth and never let it get closer than five. But the fact that the Thunder played extremely hard and competed well for 48 minutes, especially after playing last night, was nice to see. Nobody really expected victory coming in, but a blowout loss wouldn’t have been a surprise. But they hung tough and gave themselves a chance.
Something I really watched for was how Kevin Durant responded when he came back in during crunch time in the fourth. He took a seat with 10 minutes left in the fourth with OKC trailing by two. He re-entered with 7:30 left with the Thunder down eight. The next three minutes Durant didn’t take a shot and the Nuggets pushed the lead to 12. He then really started trying to take over and got to the line six times and ended up scoring eight points, but he still only took four shots and made one (which was a flipping sweet facial on Chris Andersen) and the Thunder never got closer than seven. I honestly couldn’t really see much KD could have done differently because he tried to do his work, but he just didn’t get much help. Jeff Green scored just four in the fourth after having 20 in the first three. He only took three shots and that’s the thing – he seemed a bit passive.
At this point in the season you’re looking for small things to put in your pocket and take with into the offseason. You’re not playing for anything, but you want to get better. And despite losing by 10, there’s a couple of positives here.
Russell Westbrook was absolutely excellent. He had 14 points (6-13 shooting), 11 assists, six rebounds and complete control of the game while he was on the floor. These last couple games it’s really seemed like Westbrook was settled and in control (he’s had two double-doubles in his last three). He really didn’t force things and instead of looking for his own offense, he did an awesome job of getting into the lane, slowing himself down and finding teammates. He had five assists in the first quarter and seven in the first half. He would have had two more in the first half, but after making two fantastic no-look passes to Thabo and KD, their layups were blocked. Oh, and Russell completely broke Anthony Carter down with about 2:30 left in the first quarter. Like Carter had his jock, his wallet and possibly his groin laying somewhere near the free throw line after that. Too bad Durant couldn’t pay off the wide open three. We still can’t say whether or not Westbrook is the point guard of the future because there’s a lot to go before that can be determined, but I think he’s taken some solid steps in the right direction these last few.
D.J. White and Shaun Livingston really encouraged me with their games. Neither line really jumps out and hits you in the face (White had seven points, four rebounds; Livingston six points, three assists), but both were productive with their time. It’s clear Scott Brooks is watching their minutes closely, but Livingston has the look of a guy that can control the game when he comes in. He’s calm and makes great passes. White has got to get stronger on the boards. In the second quarter Renaldo Balkman went right over the top of him and took one away. But White finished well around the rim and he’s a great bailout option for Westbrook and Livingston. He can knock down open jumpers, but he can also go inside.
- The Thunder had 10 turnovers in the first half (15 for the game) but they also had a number of great passes. Westbrook had four or five sweet dishes. Thabo had a great wrap-around to Krstic. Jeff Green hit a cutting Thabo for two. Just a lot of great looks.
- Nenad Krstic was 7-10 for 17 points. It was nice to see him back to his old jumpshooting self. When he’s hitting those jumpers, Westbrook is a 10 assist kind of guy. When he’s not, Russell will have four or five. Westbrook will get Krstic open looks. It’s just a matter of whether or not Krispy hits it.
- Again, hot first quarter hitting 3-4 from three, but then 2-8 after.
- When I watch J.R. Smith, I can’t help but wonder why he’s not a 20-25 point per game player. Obviously, he doesn’t get enough minutes for it, but he can score from everywhere and he’s really got a complete offensive game. But he’s your dream shooting guard – 6-foot-6, athletic, great jump shot and the ability to get to the rim and score. Why he’s never turned it on, I do not know.
- The Nuggets had 22 first half free throw attempts. They finished 30-36 from the line. In three of the four games, Denver has had over 30 makes from the line. I’m not one to complain about officiating, but tonight I must admit to hating the refs more than usual. Carmelo gets every call. Every. Freaking. Call. And of course right after the play that made me write that, Westbrook got raked across the face the next possession, but was there a call? Would I be writing this if there were? The Thunder was called for 27 fouls and Denver 22. If it weren’t for KD late in the game, it would have been more like 27-18. Again, I’m not really complaining but yet, I really am.
- Brian Davis said that in Thunder wins, Jeff Green averages 15 free throw attempts a game but in losses he averages under four. Wowzers. I’m going to have to check that stat because that just doesn’t seem right.
- Speaking of Uncle Jeff, how about his poster of the Birdman? Holy crap that was a sweet dunk. And then KD followed it up with another one to which Russell gave a huge fist pump. I don’t think RW has forgotten the Birdman taking exception to Russ dunking on him last time. I like the Birdman but I also like watching OKC dunk on his face.
- Is it just me or does Denver’s rims seem extra rattlely? Those things are probably still vibrating.
- Uncle Jeff had 24 points and KD had 31 to match Carmelo’s 31 and Nene’s 23. But the difference was the Thunder bench totaled just 22 points and Denver had 46 off the pine.
- Unlike last night, when Kyle Weaver and Livingston were on the floor, Livingston handled point guard duties. Which I like a bit better because Weaver is more comfortable off the ball. I want him to be able to play both spots, but I think Livingston does a better job of running the offense.
- Brian Davis always says Linas Kleiza is in a shooting slump, but I’d never know it. He scored 17 big points off the bench and hit a dagger three late. He’s averaging 13 ppg against OKC which is three above his season averaging and is shooting 50 percent from the field and 45 percent from three. Of course he hits 44 percent from the field and 33 percent from three on the season.
Very similar to the game last night, OKC was very tight with Denver but a poor close to third gave the Nuggets a semi-comfortable lead going into the fourth. That type of thing has killed the Thunder all year. For whatever reason, the last two minutes of quarters really comes back to bite OKC.
Sure it’s another loss, but I think there’s a lot of good to take from this. Guys that need some run got it and were somewhat productive. Nick Collison was killed by foul trouble and only got 16 minutes, but D.J. White got 12, Livingston 18 and Weaver 18. Those guys need minutes and that’s what these last few games are for.
One day off to come back to OKC to get ready to put a bow on the 2008-09 home season. A tear. I vote we beat the Bobcats Friday night for a solid sendoff.