The Thunder’s up three games to none over Denver. They walked into an incredibly hostile place and pulled out an unbelievably gritty win to put themselves in an excellent position to finish this series and move on to the second round.
But whoa boy, it did not come easy.
(Remember, the Thunder won the game. They’re up 3-0. Remember that.)
Oklahoma City did an unbelievable job of withstanding a barrage of free throws in the third quarter by Denver to which the Nuggets took a 73-71 lead into the fourth and every drop of momentum there could be into the fourth. The Thunder didn’t execute by any means, but behind four straight stops and holding Denver without a bucket for almost five minutes, OKC stretched out to a comfortable lead late in the game. Russell Westbrook dropped a big shot. The Thunder dominated the glass. It was a textbook close of a team on the road.
And then Kendrick Perkins decided he wanted to throw a pretty stupid pass. With 40 seconds left and the Thunder ahead by eight, Perk attempted to find Serge Ibaka with a full-court heave that fell innocently out of bounds. The Nuggets had life. After a couple missed free throws and a couple J.R. Smith 3-pointers, we found ourselves with the Thunder only ahead by three, 97-94, with 10.5 seconds left and the Nuggets in possession.
The ball would find Smith once again who tried to get James Harden to bite on a pump before going up for the shot. I’m sure the good people in the Rocky Mountains saw a clear foul on the shot, but even tossing aside every Thunder bone in my body, I just don’t see one. Harden was straight up and the contact created was by Smith on the follow-through to Harden’s arms which were pointed at the ceiling. (You be the judge on it.)
Point is, the Thunder tried to completely crap away an incredible playoff win. They didn’t though. They’re still up 3-0 and in position to close this out Monday night. It was all about stops and rebounding, two things the Thunder executed superbly. Both Westbrook and Kevin Durant never got entirely on track going a combined 13-37 for 49 points. This time it was Serge Ibaka stepping up with 22 huge points, 16 even huger rebounds and four bigger than huge blocks. He was a total beast and the difference for the Thunder.
Sans the last 40 seconds, OKC’s defense in the fourth quarter was pretty much unreal. The Nuggets had no idea where to go with the ball and couldn’t find even an inch of open floor for a clean look. The Thunder weren’t scoring much either but it was a point here, a basket there and before you knew it, OKC had taken a two-point lead to eight. And so we thought, locked up the game. Obviously OKC didn’t get the memo this morning that NBA games do in fact last 48 minutes and not 47. I think the Thunder mentally checked out with 45 seconds left and started the party a bit early.
All that doesn’t matter though. In the end, all it changes is how people like me have to recap the game. Because the Thunder’s up three games to none. They could’ve won 2-0 on a Kendrick Perkins’ fadeaway jumper and all that matters is that they had more points. It’s about surviving these situations and the Thunder stepped up in a scary moment and a scary place to win a game against a completely desperate team. The Nuggets knew Saturday night was pretty much do or die. They were the wounded dog trying to fight for their life. That’s a tough environment to win in, especially for a young group that never had done such a thing. But OKC rose to the challenge and put the Nuggets away, and maybe the series with defense.
- The Nuggets are going to have to look at themselves for a long time wondering what happened at the free throw line. They missed 15 (30-45) but for a good part of the game were just around 50 percent.
- Foul trouble nearly killed OKC. Perk, Nick Collison, James Harden, KD, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka all were in some sort of foul situation to start the fourth quarter. The Thunder finished the game without anyone disqualified, but it was sort of a miracle, especially with the way the fouls piled up in the third.
- On that third quarter, I’ll put it this way: The Nuggets took 18 free throws. OKC took two. I was frustrated.
- Both Westbrook and Durant were hit with technicals in the third quarter. That should say something about it. I feared the Thunder were going to lose their composure a bit there but they hung together.
- The Nuggets came out with a ton of emotion and their crowd was rocking early on. It really felt like the Thunder were just going to have to weather the first half and hopefully make a run in the third. Except OKC dominated the second quarter 30-18 and took a good seven-point lead to halftime. Those last four minutes of the second quarter may have been what won OKC this game.
- On the final play, how about Nene’s headlock on Westbrook? Also, Smith traveled pretty blatantly too. Just wanted to say so.
- When Arron Afflalo came out and hit those first two 3s and then that long 2, I was absolutely terrified. But after that, he wasn’t a factor. He finished with 13 on just 4-12 shooting.
- Overlooked: KD had six assists and Russell Westbrook nearly notched a triple-double (23-8-9).
- Serge Ibaka’s line one more time: 22 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks. I don’t mean to pick on him, but Jeff Green would never have done something like that, not even against a high school team.
- The Thunder went seven and a half minutes without a basket spanning the third and fourth quarters. And they won!
- How about KD’s stuff of Afflalo despite having five fouls? Ballsy KD. Ballsy.
- Actual Scott Brooks “Wired” segment: “Get some stops here, get some stops here and we’re gonna make a shot.” Coaching!
- I got asked a lot but I’m going to take a pass on the SonicsGate supporters behind the Thunder bench. I moved on from that stuff three years ago.
- Ibaka has absolutely not concept of time or situation. If you handed him a bomb that had a giant ticking clock counting down, he’d just pivot and pumpfake until the thing went off. Note to the Thunder: Don’t give Serge the ball in late shot clock situations. He has no idea what to do.
- How about Ibaka going 10-10 from the line though?
- How about all the how abouts in this recap?
- The TGR guys recapped the game. Have a listen here.
- The Thunder won this game despite shooting just 36 percent. The Nuggets shot only 37 percent. Like I said, all about defense, rebounding and the fact OKC made a few more free throws. It’s how you win in knock down drag out games like this.
I don’t need to tell you but no team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series. That number’s a bit more daunting than the 94 percent thing. But at the same time, that sort of stuff is pretty scary, because there’s always a first. I vote the Thunder just finishes this thing up Monday night and gives us all a good few days off of rest.
Next up: Game 4 in Denver Monday.