Carmelo Anthony played like himself tonight, and Kevin Durant didn’t. That in of itself could have been the main difference in Denver as Oklahoma City dropped its second straight game with a 112-107 loss to the Nuggets.
Durant finished the second half 1-9 from the field, including 0-4 in the fourth quarter, and the Thunder just didn’t have the gas to keep up with the Nuggets even with Russell Westbrook dominating the third quarter. Anthony on the other hand poured it in from all over the court and finished with 37 points on 12-25 shooting, with KD finishing with 22 points on a lousy 6-18 night from the floor.
Although it’s just third time this season Oklahoma City has dropped two in a row, it’s still just a wee bit troubling. I’m not one to overreact to a couple of losses — count me among those who shrugged at the loss to the Lakers because of the uncharacteristically bad (even for OKC) night from behind the arc — but I do think it’s at least worth noting that the Thunder has dropped four of its last five road games against teams currently in playoff position. That’s not a sign of doom, but it’s an indicator that there’s much work to be done. As if that wasn’t obvious already.
Oklahoma City wasted another stellar performance from Westbrook, who had a double-double with 28 points and 10 assists. Westbrook was a facilitator in the first half and a scorer in the second half, but the Thunder couldn’t manage to rally around him and get buckets when it mattered in the fourth quarter.
Is this where I say something about another poor defensive performance from Oklahoma City? OK. It was another poor defensive performance. Keyboards across the Daily Thunder landscape are getting worn out because of it, but it remains a thorn in OKC’s side. Tonight was no different. There wasn’t a lot of focus on that end of the court, as has become routine in 2010-11.
The game sort of had an odd feel to it. I never really thought the Thunder was actually in danger of losing until rather late in the fourth quarter, because I kept expecting a run that never came. I kept thinking that surely a KD shot or two would fall, but it didn’t.
In any case, it’s over with now and the Thunder is headed back to Oklahoma City. The Thunder is now 4-4 in January, which appears to be the team’s toughest month on paper, with three of five games left in the month against current playoff teams. Just treading water at this point until the calendar turns to February could be judged a decent performance.
- Durant and Anthony were having some sort of animated conversation right before the tip. I almost have to believe that it had something to do with Mikhail Prokhorov’s announcement in the late afternoon that the Nets were ending their pursuit of Anthony. I really wish I knew what they were saying.
- What a horrible atmosphere to start the game. Tons of empty seats, dead crowd. Just horrible. Apparently some snow kept some people from getting to the game on time and prompted others to stay at home, but still. Nobody was making any noise.
- Other than Amare Stoudemire and Kevin Martin, are there any NBA players who have had more successful careers post-microfracture surgery? His put-back dunk about halfway through the first quarter reminded me that people were scared of his knees several seasons ago. Seem fine to me.
- The 11-0 run for the Nuggets in the first quarter was just painful. Bad defense, uninspired offense. Maybe it was that terrible crowd. Hard for OKC’s youngsters to feel like they should give a crap in that environment, maybe? Thank goodness for the Serge Ibaka block to put a stop to it … and then, of course, the Thunder exploded for 10 straight points and played well again all of the sudden and ended the quarter down only three.
- The Nuggets had an entire lineup of bench players out there early in the second quarter. I don’t know if that’s a sign of a deep roster so much as a brave coach. I don’t watch enough Nuggets to know if they do that too often, but it struck me as strange. You don’t see too many teams do that.
- KD really got cold late in the second quarter after a nice start. I was glad to see him drive the lane and get fouled on a mini-break right before a media timeout. It seems like he hasn’t been as willing to do that to work his way out of in-game slumps this season, whereas last season you could count on it. But it didn’t end up helping much tonight, as KD stayed cold for most of the rest of the night.
- Raise your hand if you envisioned Ibaka starting 6-6 against Denver’s front line and coming within a couple of late scores by Durant and Anthony from leading all scorers at the break with 12 points. Yeah, me neither.
- Eight assists in the first half for Westbrook. I like it when he starts fast in terms of sharing the ball.
- Speaking of Westbrook, I must say that I don’t like it when I see him crumpled in a heap on the floor. He took a shot to the body as Chauncey Billups collided with him when he brought the ball up the court after a made basket, and stayed down through a quick Denver offensive possession. He got up, and I exhaled. Any time he goes down, or KD, I freak out a little bit, even if it’s only for a few seconds.
- Fun to see Durant block Anthony on a 1-on-1 during an open break for the Nuggets. But then of course the Thunder screwed up its offensive possession, and Melo nailed a three. Oh well. Durant also had a nice block on Martin in the third quarter.
- Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to see Nene in a Thunder uniform. But it’s kind of hard for me to take him seriously with the Cabbage Patch Kids hair style he has going on, despite another nice game from him tonight.
- Durant had a truly dumb, lazy foul late in the third quarter that annoyed me. He was behind Anthony and slapped at the ball as Melo went up for an open jumper, and he sank the jumper and the free throw to bring the Nuggets to within two. Can’t have that.
- The Thunder spent a large part of the fourth quarter settling for jumpers. The Nuggets attacked the rim. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this stretch is when Denver began to take control, and the crowd came alive.
OKC slipped a spot in the playoff race tonight and finds itself in fourth place thanks to Dallas’ win against the Lakers, but remains tied with Utah for the division lead (ahead on tiebreakers) and still is in fourth place in the West. I mention this because, unless things change, home court for the Thunder in the first round appears to be as important as it ever was for Oklahoma City’s chances in advancing in the playoffs this year. The team will have to play better than it did tonight if it wants to make noise.
Next up: Saturday vs. the Knicks at home.