2010-11 Game 77: Oklahoma City Thunder 101, Denver Nuggets 94

If basketball were a semester of college drinking, this game would be classified as The Hangover. After coming off one of the best wins of the season against the Lakers on Sunday — just like a wild night of partying — the concerns of the after-effects were the last thing on our minds. But tonight, we were sobered up and pushed back into the realm of reality as the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant reminded us that, as Prince would say, “Parties weren’t meant to last.” The amount of storylines one could extract from this loss are endless. From the missed free-throws, to the “super-star effect” of Durant, to the inexplicable 16 minutes of playing time JR got, to Scott Brook excellent momentum-killing time-outs, to the Nuggets inability to rebound the ball, to the — what I’m now referring to as the Nuggets sound technician loss (more on this later); it was all there. Rifling through my notes I see endless exclamation points and stars at the beginning of key-sentences, but unfortunately what I’m not seeing is the final score we all so confidently felt would result before the game where the Denver Nuggets bested the Thunder as they breathed more life into the herculean team that we’ve all come to know and love. This game is was a reality check, plain and simple. It reminded us that, although hot as ever, the NBA is still a 30-team league full of the best players in the world and on any given night you can be beat no matter how invincible you may seem.

To start the game, my interest was drawn towards the reinvented Thunder front-court of Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. Since that brilliant trade (from the Thunder’s standpoint) concocted by Sam Presti that landed Perkings in Oklahoma City, the Thunder have been playing like a totally different team. Before you felt they were talented, but lacked an identity. Since that point in time the identity of the Thunder has been their strong-point and as evident by tonight, it’s a lethal one. We always knew Durant and Westbrook were All-Stars, and some of the best creators in the league at their respective positions, but they never had that Kenyon Martin type of player who would do their dirty work when called upon. Unfortunately for us, now they do, and that enforcer comes in the from of Kendrick Perkins.

The swiftness to which this identity slapped fellow Nuggets fans across the face tonight was, again, sobering — and painful of course. From the very start of the game the Nuggets struggled to rebound the ball, and it paid off for the Thunder in the from of extra possessions. At one point in time my friend turned towards me and said, “Wow, Raymond Felton is getting rebounds.” Short, subtle, but entirely spot-on. Overall the Thunder finished with 50 rebounds in contrast to our 41 — 24 of which went to Ibaka and Perkins.

Other than the Oklahoma City front-court, the second dominating storyline of the first quarter was the continuing fad of the Nuggets choosing to start games off as if they’re recovering from a tranquilizer shot. While the Thunder were playing with hands more active than a mime at the Ringling Brothers Circus, the Nuggets looked lethargic and comatose once again. Mozgov went down with what looked to be a pretty serious knee injury, and at that point what measly amount of energy had been generated totally fled the building. The Thunder led 27-16 after one.

Then, the man we’ve all come to love and seriously want to thump on the head at times came into the game and revived the drowning Nuggets once again. JR and the crowd are like peas and carrots, as Forrest Gump would say. They each love one another equally and feed of the energy supplied by their counterpart to the point where the most static, and loving conductivity you could ever imagine is dancing throughout the arena from fan to fan. (It truly is a beautiful thing to experience and if you haven’t yet, I urge you to do so by going to a game.) With that power in hand, the Nuggets managed to finally get themselves back into the contest, and displayed some much need pride along the way. Though our bad shot selection and poor perimeter defense continued, we managed to overcome our imperfections and pull ahead by one at half-time.

When the third quarter began it was clear one of the primary storylines mentioned above was well underway in crippling the Nuggets chances for success: free-throw shooting. It was at this point when Nene and Felton started to miss their combined seven free-throws by the night’s end; it was also at this point when the once-electric energy built-up in the second quarter was squashed. Though the Nuggets and Thunder went back-and-fourth throughout the period, you never got a sense that the Nuggets were on the way to one of their patented runs we’ve seen recently. I credit a lot of this to Scott Brooks excellent (and I mean excellent) time-out calling, as he seemed to let his trepidation guide him through the contest as he made one timely clip in the Nuggets’ circuit of energy after another, until no more were left. But even with Scott Brooks constantly pestering their “swag” the Nuggets finished the quarter only down by two, 67-69.

When the fourth quarter rolled around you knew it was game-time; you also knew the Nuggets would grind their way to yet another scrappy win, right? Ugh…wrong. Though we managed to hang for most of the quarter, it was as if that’s all we were really doing: hanging. After about three minutes in you could feel the grip we were barely managing to hold start to deteriorate. The Thunder kept on playing great basketball while we just kept on going one-on-one and not making the types of plays we needed to make in order to win. You’ve got to give credit where it’s due, as the Thunder played excellent all night, especially on the defensive side of the ball where they held the highest scoring team in the league to only 94 points. If we had made some more free-throws and prevented the Thunder front-court from bringing down so many boards this quarter might have ended differently, but again it’s hard to take away from how good the Thunder played. As the game concluded I happened to glance up at the board displaying rebounding, blocks and steals; the Thunder led 62-46 in those categories combined.

As far as individual performances go Ty Lawson was the only guy who actually brought a flamethrower to the knife fight. He finished with 28 points on 10-18 from the field and 8-9 from the line, not to mention handing out five assists in the process. Gallinari also had a pretty good shooting performance as he netted 17 points on 5-9 from the field, 3-4 from behind the arc and 4-5 from the line. What should be noted most perhaps is Nene’s abysmal shooting tonight where he went 3-10 from the field and 1-4 from the line. He did bring down eight boards, three assists and two blocks, but sadly his shooting proved to be the thing Nuggets fans will remember most.

Closing Thought:

Tough loss indeed. I don’t think anybody expected it, but we have to make it our mission to get this one back when we play Oklahoma City in their house on Friday. These guys aren’t better than us, and as my friend put it “You shut down Durant, you shut down the Thunder.” Doing this will probably require some help from Arron Afflalo, but there’s no need to rush him back from injury. Chandler did an admirable job on Durant most of the game and it’s my feeling that if we can have both Afflalo and him on Durant/Westbrook the entire first-round series we shouldn’t have a problem.

On to Dallas tomorrow. It won’t be easy, but the fight this team has shown recently makes me confident we’ll bounce back swinging.

Ramblings…

— Poor Moz. Dude finally looks to be getting the run he deserves and he goes down with a knee injury just minutes withing being inserted into the first quarter. Reportedly it’s nothing serious, but he still didn’t make the trip to Dallas afterward. You have to wonder how the game might have turned out had Mozgov been able to tame Perkins or Ibaka’s rebounding numbers. Get well soon big guy.

— Kufos became the beneficiary of a depleted front-court; and that’s probably the last time I’ll ever say that sentence. There’s nothing worse than a bench player not being able to understand their role and Kufos epitomized this notion as he attempted his best Pau Gasol impression with the three minutes of playing time he was granted.

— Watching Ty in real life is exhilarating. If you think he’s fast on TV, please do yourself a favor and catch a game at the Can — that is, if you can even see him.

— The Thunder’s first step off the dribble — specifically Durant and Westbrook’s — killed us tonight. I don’t know how many times both those guys caught us off balance and took it all the way to the hole or pulled up for a swishy jump-shot.

— I’m blaming this loss on the Nuggets sound technician, or whoever the hell chooses the music. I swear, “Blister in the Sun” came on in the fourth quarter and from that point on everything went downhill. I warned these guys not too long ago about how bad of an omen it is to be playing that song when JR has the ball in his hands, but nooooo, they went on ahead and did it again. “Blister in the Sun” is not a bad song — I actually like it — but it’s just not the type of song you play when JR is about ready to break some poor souls’ ankles. He needs some “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” or “In Da Club” by 50 Cent, not John freakin’ Mellencamp or the theme to Friday the 13th! Hell, they might as well play “Every Rose has it’s Thorn” when K-Mart is about to posterize somebody while they’re at it.

— Speaking of K-Mart, raise your hand if you want to see him and Kendrick Perkins go at it in a seven-game series! (I do!)

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Kalen Deremo

Kalen was born in Durango, CO, in 1988 and graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2013 with a degree in journalism. He's now an itinerant hoping to travel as much as possible before eventually succumbing to the "real world." Aside from writing Kalen likes movies, music, spicy food and the great outdoors. Edward Abbey is his current idol.

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  • Evan

    Very tough loss, but I think we needed a reality check. We’ll see the true colors of this team tomorrow night in Dallas and Friday in OKC.

    Interestingly, I found myself hating the Thunder with a passion while watching this game which is unusual since they are one of my favorite teams otherwise. It was good to see Nene stray from his softer side and go at with Perkins a little bit, which hopefully will fuel him in the playoffs since it didn’t translate to much offensively tonight.

    All I know is that this is going to be one hell of a playoff series. I can hardly wait.

  • Aurress

    Good write-up. Thanks! Living on the east coast I didn’t get to see the game (had to suffer with Pistons/Wizards & Bobcats/Cavaliers. Are you serious?). So reading the morning after will just have to do for now.

    Nice to see that we were competitive down the stretch. Hopefully this gives us plenty of notes for the upcoming matchups with OKC. Practice some FTs & get the guys healthy, we’ll be ready come Playoff time.

    • DH

      Yeah, what was with those televised games last night? Wow. They might have done better with a couple of D-League games.

  • DH

    I didn’t overreact to the win over the Lakers and I certainly won’t overreact to this loss. It wasn’t unexpected at all to me, for a variety of reasons.

    First, as you mentioned, is the hangover effect. That win over the Lakers was huge for the Nugs and probably took a lot out of us.

    Second, I think it’s astounding that we’ve done as well as we have without our best (in my opinion), most consistent all-around player – Afflalo. It was bound to catch up with us at some point. We could have used his ability to take and make good shots (he’s among the best perimeter players in the league in effective field goal percentage), his decision-making, and his calm under pressure. And we always miss his defense.

    Third, I had no illusions that we would go undefeated the rest of the season. To me, it was highly unlikely that we would sweep the four games against the Lakers, Thunder (twice), and Dallas. Sure, the home game isn’t the one you would expect to lose. But it won’t surprise me if we win at Dallas and OKC, so why can’t the Thunder win here?

    Fourth, the Thunder are really good, especially with Perk. If both teams are at full strength, I think every game between the Nugs and Thunder could go either way, on either court.

    Fifth, the Thunder are huge, and I didn’t expect Karl to use Mozgov as much as I would have wanted him to. I might have been wrong about that, but when Moz went down with the injury, it had the same effect.

    And finally, the Thunder had more incentive. We had just made our big statement against the Lakers. The Thunder had lost two in a row, were losing their grip on the division, and were being questioned a little. They had more motivation to prove something, in my opinion.

    So this wasn’t a bad or unexpected loss to me. And it doesn’t mean a whole lot in terms of what will happen between the two teams in the playoffs. I also hope fans don’t panic if the Nuggets lose one or even both of the next two games. Dallas was the second best team in the West for most of the season (behind SA, though things have obviously changed). They’re down now, but they have the ability to pull it back together and beat anyone. And this is the second game of a back-to-back. Plus, we’re banged up.

    I’m not too worried about the results of any games from here on out. Our seeding is pretty much set. We just need to get healthy and not lose our edge when it comes to playing hard and playing smart. But if we lose a couple of games, I don’t think it takes away from the fact that we are still a very dangerous team to face in the playoffs, if we’re healthy.

  • Jeff

    “You shut down Durant, you shut down the Thunder.”

    That was true in 2010. It was somewhat true up until the All-Star break (Even though Thunder are 4-1 without Durant). It has been untrue Since Perkins and Mohammed joined the Thunder.

    Before then, thunder were 9-9 when Durant was shut-down or extremely limited (25 or less points). Since then, Thunder are 8-4 when Durant scores 25 or less.

    Last season Thunder was 9-11 when Durant failed to reach 25. (41-21 when he eclipsed 25).

    March was Durant’s lowest scoring month since his rookie season, but the best month (by win-%) in franchise history.

    The Thunder have proven that they are more than a 1-man show. Since Green was traded away, Harden has averaged 17+ppg and Ibaka has averaged 9+rpg, 10+ppg & 3.4 bpg. The Thunder no longer live or die by Durant (or even Westbrook).

    • Kalen

      Great point Jeff. Though I agreed with my friend at the time, what’s probably more true is if you hold Durant “in-check” then you hold the Thunder “in-check.” The Thunder is a great team, well balanced and didn’t get the record it has for no reason.

  • Scrondiggs

    Great post, and a disappointing game that now forces some decisions to be made. Now we know that maybe Afflalo and Bird can sit a few more games and we can start to rest this team a little bit before the playoffs. Too bad about Moz, hopefully the MRI shows nothing more than what was diagnosed and he will be available for the series. As another poster had said I don’t mind the Thunder but in this game I despised them especially Westbrook. Good to see that Ty can dominate and frustrate him offensively, Westy seems easily rattled and a bit flaky once he is. Lastly hopefully Nene looks at some tape and realizes that he is much faster and can dominate Perkins when he faces up against him, I’m sure Coach Karl will bring it up.

  • Douglas

    Man, this game was frustrating. My hopes were realistic after the big game in LA. However, after I realized how physical this game was going to be I really wanted this one. We needed to impose our strength, our toughness on the Thunder. They have had a swagger since the Perkins trade and we really needed to show we can handle it. Obviously we didn’t back down, but the Thunder clearly won that battle. Serge and Kendrick dominated the boards and got under Martin and Nene’s skin. They sufficiently distracted us while Durant and Maynor went off. But, as the night wore on I saw that losing this game was just as important as winning it. The Nuggets need to feel the sting of loss to the Thunder. They need the valuable lessons that will come out of this game. Some quick examples:

    1) Defense. Where was the swarming trap defense we played against the Spurs? I hope we can learn our lesson from this game and improve the game plan for the playoffs. Even without the trap, our defense could improve immensely if the inside players get in position to take charges in the lane. OKC got to Nene and Martin enough that they were more focused on rebounding and fighting with the other bigs. On numerous occasions Durant and Westbrook beat their man on the dribble and were then given a free lane to the basket. We’ve got to take a charge inside!

    2) Mozgov. I have to feel Karl had big plans for Mozgov this game. Getting him into the game so early had to indicate he would be a big part of the game plan. Losing him was huge to me. He better not miss significant time.

    3) Free throw shooting. It’s obvious, but when a loss can be attributed to free throws it might provide a wakeup call. This is something that the Nuggets cannot look passed. It will be key in the playoffs.

    4) The effect of Durant on the refs. It is key that the Nuggets adjust to the refs calling a foul any time someone breathes on Durant.

    5) Coaching. The 16-0 run OKC went on in the 4th can be attributed to horrible play by the subs (Harrington is too small!) and Karl let it go far too long. Karl also didn’t force the ball to Lawson more. Lawson clearly had the edge and too often I saw Martin, Gallo, and Felton dribble the ball across half-court. Why didn’t we take a 3 at the end of the game?? A few quick 2s are great, but at some point it has to be a 3.

    6) Go to the basket strong! I saw far too many layups from Nene miss. He needs to dunk it. Gallinari, Chandler, Nene all can easily get a step, get around their man and get to the basket. Next game let’s make sure its a dunk rather than a layup that clangs off the rim.

    Two last minute thoughts: Lawson is a star. I’m so over people saying Denver doesn’t have a superstar, and nobody can win without a super star. Gallo has potential, Chandler can certainly be effective, but Lawson is a STAR. I’d take him over Westbrook, over Rondo, over an aging Nash and Billups. Who, other than Derrick Rose, is a better PG? Second, we need to get the Thunder in foul trouble and keep attacking those with high fouls. OKC has problems fouling out. Even if we can’t use the free throws to our advantage at least it will get players out of the game. Perkins should be easy to get in foul trouble. Westbrook could get in trouble also if we get him frustrated like last night.

    • DH

      Concerning your thoughts on people saying we have to have a superstar, I’ll add another thought… They say you have to have a “closer” for end-of-game situations. What people fail to notice is that shooting percentages in “clutch” situations are usually well below normal shooting percentages – even from the best closers. That’s due to the increased defensive attention the closer gets and the fact that many clutch shots come with very little time left on the clock. So having a closer is overrated.

      Having said that, I’ll take Afflalo for my team’s last-second shot any day. He is as clutch as anyone. Felton and Chandler also seem to have icewater in their veins. So with Lawson creating and drawing attention and several good options available, I love our chances in a last-shot scenario. To me, it beats having only one player who will absolutely take the last shot (Melo), even if he happens to be one of the best at it.

  • nordmoose

    We got beat.
    They beat us.
    The Thunder planned, were coached and they executed better than the Nuggets did. Plain and simple, that’s the way I saw it.
    True, it felt like I was watching another version of the game from the night before – the Butler v. UConn game, but, last night, OKC did what they needed to do and they did it well.
    – How many more layups and round’n’outs should we expect to see in future games? Exactly. Bummer timing for all that to happen last night.
    – I can’t wait to see Perkins, Nene and K-Mart play this season out. Whoa, could THAT subplot get good.
    – Ty rocks.
    – What the hellsbells is going on with the FTs? And Nene in particular?
    – OKC did what we do better than we did it last night.
    – Our defense didn’t adjust properly.
    – ‘Long jumper, long rebound and run to the other end of the court for the same thing’ seemed to be the call of the game, for both teams. Except OKC was connecting. The Nuggets seemed to get a bit more discombobulated (I love typing that word. Try it. Writing it is fun too – cursive, of course.).
    – Moz…hope you’re back on the floor soon, mate.
    – I’m not really that bummed with this loss. I am but I’m not. The Nuggets weren’t executing and they still could have made a quick run with a few 3s at the end of the game. I thought OKC played very well and they’re a great/tough match-up for us. But what I saw last night? If the Nuggets can execute and connect with THEIR game and play as they have/are able, we can take OKC in less than seven. Watching that game last night told me that as much as a win – but I’d rather have the W as well.
    – SOMETHING other than the slow starts will have to happen before the season ends. That’s a lame pattern that has to cease. Maybe all those ads for ‘5 hour energy’ should be played in the locker room before game time? I don’t know but the sluggish starts are starting to annoy me.
    – Afflalo who? Is he still on our team? OH YEA! Arron, get back soon and stay back. Pick up Chris on your way back too, k?
    – I’m starting to like Felton’s fire and attitude more the more I get to SEE him.
    If I could, I’d give ya $0.05 and you could take all this and get yerself a cup’o’coffee – as long as your friend was serving or you get yourself a few more bucks. Nevertheless, onwards fellow fans and GO NUGGETS!

  • Warner

    Tough loss for Nuggets but I thought this one was coming. All the local press was praising this team for what they did in LA and it was rightfully deserved. However, they have to stay focused. I think the stretch at the end of the 3rd quarter when we had Harrington at Center and Chandler and PF really destroyed us. I know Koufus looked awful but Harrington and Chandler can’t play against Perkins and Ibaka. Very pleased with Lawson we’ll bounce back I’m sure of it