It’s not how I envisioned Oklahoma City finally beating Denver. I pictured a full, roaring Ford Center. I pictured Carmelo and KD dueling down the stretch, trading buckets in a pressure packed fourth quarter and in the end, the Thunder making one big play to win it.
I didn’t really see it coming as a 17-point blowout, 101-84, in front of a sparse crowd with no ‘Melo. But all the same, it’s equally as sweet.
The Thunder needed this game. Not only to stop the three-game skid, but moreover, to restore some confidence in themselves. The lost the close ones last week. Then they dropped a bad one to Chicago two nights ago. People were starting to wonder if they were slipping. And though there was no Carmelo Anthony, OKC put a whipping on the division-leading Nuggets. It’s a good, good win for many reasons. I know ‘Melo didn’t play, but that hasn’t hurt the Nuggets in keeping their eight-game win streak going. So while that’s a fair point, the fact OKC was focused and fired up is what really proved to be the difference.
Everything clicked tonight. The offense was crisp. The defense was excellent. OKC rebounded the ball as good as ever. There was a real focus to the team tonight. Kevin Durant notched his 20th straight game with 25 points or more as he scored 30 on 12-19 shooting, but Russell Westbrook was quietly awesome. He had 12 points (5-11 shooting), eight assists, three rebounds and just two turnovers. And after J.R. Smith started hot from 3 (started 4-5, finished 5-10), Westbrook really turned up the heat on Smith playing some really solid defense.
And in a way, watching Westbrook work extremely hard on the defensive end was kind of upsetting. He had a couple sequences where he was an absolute terror. And of course, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Where is that all the time?” I distinctly remember one play where Smith was dribbling behind a Nene screen trying to find an open look but Westbrook never gave him any room and ending up challenging the shot perfectly, forcing a miss. Russ has the ability to be a really, really good defender. And sometimes, he is. But if he cranks it up for 35 minutes a night like he did in stretches tonight, this Thunder team will be tough to score on.
On the rebounding: OKC won the boards 38-31, but Denver had only four offensive rebounds and they all came in the second half. So if you deduce that properly, that means the Nuggets didn’t have an offensive rebound in the first half. I can’t express how big that is. This was definitely OKC’s best rebounding effort of the season. Thabo and Serge Ibaka tied with seven rebounds, but really the whole team did a solid job on the boards. I think the number now is that the Thunder is 20-6 when winning the battle on the glass.
- It appeared that Nene was going to absolutely dominate the game early on. But after six points and a couple rebounds, he completely disappeared. Give credit to Nenad Krstic who got a lot more physical in the second quarter. Krstic had eight points and four rebounds in 24 minutes, but he played quality minutes tonight.
- What sealed the deal was a great run to finish the third. OKC outscored Denver 28-15 in the third, held the Nuggs to 5-16 shooting in the quarter and finished the quarter on a 9-0 run.
- Thabo really jumpstarted that excellent third quarter. He made two wonderful defensive plays on Chauncey Billups, had an awesome no-look pass and had an athletic put-back on a miss by Westbrook. Really solid game for Thabo.
- Of course, the highlight of the night was Durant losing a shoe and still blocking Aaron Afflalo with only one kick on. If you missed it, I have video for you right here.
- How about that turnaround jumper by Nick Collison to beat the shot clock? I’m sure Nick works on that one every day. Looked like MJ on that one.
- Crazy stat: OKC was 21-32 at the rim. Denver was 9-19. It’s rare someone shoots under 50 percent at the rim, but the fact Denver only got 19 looks for there is huge.
- Jeff Green was solid again (15-5). James Harden scored 12 off the bench and hit three 3s. Collison chipped in 10. This is the type of stuff the Thunder need in support of KD to win games. If they get this kind of production all around on a consistent basis, they can and will be able to beat anyone.
- The crowd was just fantastic tonight. People don’t understand, Oklahoma City is literally covered in ice. It’s a total disaster outside right now. But an estimated 10,000 fans showed up to the Ford Center and made a good amount of noise. Officially it was a sellout, but the fact that many people turned out is really cool. I honestly wouldn’t have been shocked if 500 people were there.
- Rejected lede that I wrote mid-way through the fourth that I deemed wayyy too lame: “Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the basketball in the Ford Center was so delightful.” I bet Brian Davis is mad he didn’t think of that one tonight.
- Oh, and Grant Long was on his game, getting in five That’s Thunder Basketball’s tonight. What’s really impressive is that he got three plugged in a two minute span. Also, someone tweeted me and said that the PA guy snuck in a That’s Thunder Basketball after a defensive play. Maybe they’ve been commanded by the higher-ups to say it. Conspiracy.
- Denver had 23 turnovers tonight. OKC just 11. The Thunder took 15 more shots. But how about this, Denver attempted only 66 shots (hitting only 41 percent). That’s insane.
From the start, this didn’t have your typical feel with the Nuggets. Normally it feels like OKC is just overmatched. I guess not having ‘Melo was big or something, but still, typically it seems like the Thunder is just trying to hang tough while Denver abuses them inside and scores from everywhere. I know people will point to Carmelo not playing, but like I said, the Nuggets have been winning without him. And the most important thing is, ‘Melo or no ‘Melo, Oklahoma City got a win it desperately needed and injected a shot of confidence in the proverbial arm.
Next up: Golden State at home Sunday night.