Does everyone feel at least a little bit better about a potential Thunder-Nuggets playoff series now?
OK, so it doesn’t necessarily have to mean anything that Oklahoma City has beaten Denver twice in a week, once on each team’s home floor, just as a potential playoff series between them approaches. But most folks would probably feel a lot worse about things if the Thunder dropped both games, or even one. Instead, Oklahoma City thumped the Nuggets 104-89 at home on Friday night to pair with a win on the road Tuesday.
After recovering from an 8-0 Denver run to start the game, the Thunder were rarely troubled by the Nuggets despite finishing an ugly first quarter in a 17-17 tie. Oklahoma City was led largely by reserves on a 20-4 run to seize control in the second quarter, although Denver would whittle the lead to as few as three later in the game. It just never seemed like the Thunder was much at risk of losing the game.
The bad news for the Nuggets is they got thumped with the Thunder’s starting five not shooting particularly well from the field. Kevin Durant was a relatively pedestrian 9 of 21 from the floor, but added 8 of 10 from the stripe to finish with 28 points. The starters as a unit shot only 23 of 56, and the Nuggets would probably have taken that on the spot if you offered it to them before the game. But they couldn’t capitalize on some rather sloppy play in stretches by the OKC starters and looked relatively unfocused themselves.
The weakness in Denver’s approach to offense-by-committee also showed up in the Thunderdome. Nene led the Nuggets with 18 points, and Ray Felton and Danilo Gallinari added 17 apiece to go along with 14 by Kenyon Martin. That kind of scoring balance is nice, but at the same time, winning playoff teams usually have one or two go-to scorers who set themselves apart. Do you think Nene could lead the Nuggets in scoring four times with only 18 points and Denver could win those games? I don’t. And Kendrick Perkins is unlikely to let him score that many points very often in the first place, I wouldn’t think. If Denver can get one guy hot each night, they’ll have a chance to win some games. But if they have too many nights like these without a dominant scoring effort from someone, it could be a shorter series than many fear.
Despite the ugliness, a 15-point win over Denver is what a lot of Thunder fans wanted to see to calm the nerves for the next week, and that’s what they got. It could have been prettier, but winning ugly four times in seven games would be just fine, wouldn’t it?
- The Thunder’s slow start in the first quarter was due mainly to butterfingers on the defensive boards and Thabo Sefolosha missing a bunny. It didn’t have to start out at ugly as it did.
- Each team consolidated its early scoring in two players. Martin and Nene combined for the first 12 Denver points, including six points at the rim. And Russell Westbrook matched Durant’s 8 points for the first 16 for Oklahoma City. The first point by someone other than those guys came in a rather odd situation: Serge Ibaka sank an and-one free throw when he was fouled away from the ball on made basket b Durant.
- Ibaka had sort of an off night, shooting only 1-7 and not seeing any action in the fourth quarter. I’m sure he would have come on if the outcome were in doubt, though.
- The Thunder’s second unit made its second-quarter run doing all the things it does best: hustling, sharing the ball, playing solid defense both on and away from the ball, crashing the offensive boards and not giving up shots at the rim other than a drive from waterbug Ty Lawson.
- Speaking of offensive rebounding, all eight of Nick Collison’s boards were on that end. As Grant Long would say, that’s Thunder basketball.
- James Harden was the beneficiary of one of my least-favorite calls in the NBA. A referee whistles a foul on a jumper he had over Felton only after the ball clanged off the rim. It was one of those where the ref clearly waited to see if the shot made it before he called the foul. I just hate that. It’s either a foul or it’s not.
- One thing I noticed tonight that will help my sanity if the Nuggets play the Thunder in the first round: There weren’t too many Denver fans in the arena. I wanted to slap some Lakers fans last year, and there were many of them. I don’t think there will be many Nuggets fans in the crowd this year.
- The starters’ worst stretch of the game other than the first four minutes was the last four minutes or so of the second quarter. More sloppy play let the Thunder’s lead dwindle to six by the break.
- Two extra-awesome jumbotron moments tonight. The Kiss Cam zeroed in on a guy with two girls, and the girls kissed each other. The camera quickly went on to someone else since this is Oklahoma and everything. Then for the MidFirst Bank “Show Me the Money” contest, a guy held up a sign that said “Smoke the Nugs.” We either had a very naïve cameraman and producer or they like pot jokes.
- The Thunder replicated it’s slow start and end of the first half with another cold start to the third quarter, broken only by a goaltending call on a Sefolosha runner. Some pretty painful stretches for a 15-point win.
- The referees were really eager to whistle the Thunder, it seemed like. The Nuggets were called for only one foul in the first quarter and four in the first half, and Oklahoma City seemingly couldn’t stop fouling. OKC had four fouls in the first three minutes of the second half and were over the limit a minute later, and committed three more fouls in the first 1:33 of the fourth quarter. Somehow the Thunder ended up with only five more fouls than Denver though.
- Nene and Perkins had another incident that led to a double-technical. Nene went into a shell on a pump fake and Perkins basically fell onto his back and sort of got him into a headlock, and then Nene shoved him and woofing ensued. These guys are going to fight if an Oklahoma City-Denver playoff series goes deep. I know Nene is a big dude, but does he really want to fight Perk?
- I think a lot of folks feared Denver was going to make a game of it midway through the fourth quarter when they trimmed an 18-point lead down to 9, prompting Scott Brooks to call a timeout. But a few steals — Westbrook had six on the night — and a few stops made the difference as OKC got back to a more comfortable margin.
- Westbrook had a nice night overall. He didn’t force much, he shot it decently and it seemed like he had even more steals than he did. He also scared me for a few seconds as he writhed on the ground following a foul, but it was apparent soon thereafter that he was “only” hit in the jewels. Ouch, man.
- Kosta Koufos and Gary Forbes signaled the white flag from George Karl when they entered at 2:44. Who will have a better NBA career, Koufos or Byron Mullens?
The Mavericks were able to hold off the Clippers tonight, so Oklahoma City remains in fourth place in the West with three games remaining. But Dallas is only one game ahead of the Thunder, so it’s still worth watching to see if OKC can get to that third seed. But tonight was as good of a sign as any that the Thunder should feel confident if it stays in fourth place and faces the Nuggets. Things are looking good as Oklahoma City approaches the first Game 1 at home in the city’s history.
Next up: Sunday at Lakers.