OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 17: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives to the basket against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 17, 2011 at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
It looked like a day of upsets as the Grizzlies defeated the Spurs and the Hornets bested the Lakers in the early games. But the Celtics pulled out a nail-biter at home and the Thunder out-lasted the Nuggets in tonight's evening match-ups. The Nuggets continued to struggle at the foul line, missing 12 attempts on the night and some interesting play calling and lineups late helped the Thunder secure a win in Game 1 with a 107-103 victory.
The Nuggets couldn't have asked for a better start to tonight's game. Denver came out and hit their first seven shots and raced out to a 16-6 lead. The Nuggets were 3-3 from three point land and playing with an attacking style above the rim. The Nuggets would have blown the doors of the Oklahoma City Arena had the defense been up to snuff in the first quarter.
Denver fouled early and they fouled often as the Thunder went 12-13 from the charity stripe in the first quarter. The Nuggets were contesting every shot, but doing just enough to get fouls called on them. Denver finished the first quarter shooting 15-24 and things were shaping up nicely (Denver led 33-24 after one).
In the second quarter, almost in a reaction to how the game was being called, the Nuggets defense allowed too many open shots and OKC took advantage. The Thunder came roaring back and at the 6:30 mark the Nuggets lead was cut to 47-43. Denver did a nice job of weathering the storm and surging back ahead and held a 56-48 lead with just 3:25 left before the half. But like we've seen with the Nuggets, they will fall asleep for a minute or two and they allowed Russell Westbrook to get going and OKC cut the Denver lead to just one heading into the locker room (60-59).
Things were still looking good for the Nuggets to open up the third quarter, but Kevin Durant and Westbrook had other plans and Durant took over in the second half. OKC's dynamic duo finished the game with a combined 72 points (41 for Durant and 31 for Westbrook) and Durant was in the zone for much of the second half. It didn't seem to matter if Danilo Gallinari was covering him, Wilson Chandler, or Kenyon Martin - he just kept hitting shots ... deep ones. The Nuggets lost a lot of momentum towards the end of the third quarter and the pace of the game was favoring the home team. Out-scored 27-22 and facing a 86-82 lead the Nuggets had a tough road ahead in the final quarter.
Denver came out and went on a 4-0 run and showed a lot of mental toughness in the opening stages of the fourth, but the Thunder stayed hot. Raymond Felton was hit with a bogus technical foul at the 9:48 mark and Durant capitalized by hitting the freebie. After that Eric Maynor buried a three and OKC was rolling up 96-90 with just over seven minutes to play.
J.R. Smith and Nene both converted And-1 plays as the Nuggets had a final pushed left in them and Denver took the lead 99-98 on a Nene dunk that could have resulted in yet another And-1 chance. In the final three minutes and change, George Karl went to his bread-and-butter lineup that features Felton and Ty Lawson. That lineup proved a bit ineffective as the Nuggets lacked a true shooter on the floor besides Gallo. Smith and Chandler sat on the bench and the Nuggets couldn't find buckets late when they needed them.
With Denver down 102-101 the best shot Karl could draw up was a K-Mart jumper from just inside the three-point line ... ? The shot clanked off the front of the rim.
With Denver in need of a three down 104-101, Smith and Chandler stayed on the bench - the Nuggets got a rushed, desperation shot from Felton - it missed badly.
I thought it was a huge mistake to leave only Gallo on the floor as your best pure shooter as Lawson has to either drive to the rim or be left wide open from deep to get off his shot. Chandler can routinely hit shots with a hand in his face and he attacks the glass as well. Karl needs to pick either Felton or Lawson down the stretch going forward if his team is in need of creating and hitting shots. One point guard is able to manuveur and find open players and I hate to say it, but having Lawson out there when you desperately need a three or a rebound is probably not the best choice.
The Thunder did a nice job converting late, even a nice offensive basket interference call will do for them, and they put up the effort needed to win the first game in this series. That missed offensive basket interference call can't be over-stated. Suddenly, instead of Denver beng up one point, with the ball, and with under a minute remaining with a chance to ice the game, it was Denver down one needing a shot to re-take the lead. It still came down to execution late, but that was a big non-call.
The Nuggets had good numbers in a couple key categories as they combined for 23 team assists and just 11 turnovers. But Denver also turned in a couple stinkers by going just 4-16 or 25% from deep after starting the game 3-3 from downtown (just 1-13 after that hot start??) and just 21-33 from freebie-land (63%).
We talked a lot about the Nuggets perhaps killing their chances at winning games by clanking free shots and it happened tonight. In a game where you lose by just 4 points you cannot afford to leave a possible 12 points off the board.
The Nuggets will have a few days to re-group as Game 2 isn't until Wednesday, but there is no doubt the Thunder have to feel pretty good about this win. The momentum is now with OKC and the Nuggets must do a better job at the simple things in order to even this series up before it shifts to Colorado.
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- Out of 35 possible rebounds on the offensive glass, Denver was only able to muster 5 offensive rebounds. Andersen, Chandler, and K-Mart combined for a total of 0 of them - that has to change.
- To me Chandler had the most success against Durant (if anyone had any). Gallo and K-Mart tried to get physical with him away from the ball and Denver did a good job making him a jump shooter - he had a special night though. Durant finished 13-22 shooting (3-6 downtown and 12-15 free throws) and had a playoff career-high of 41 points.
- Ty Lawson finished just 4-7 shooting for 10 points. Lawson did have 3 steals, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds, but he has to have a bigger impact on the game and must make Westbrook work on the defensive end. Too often Lawson gave up the ball to a teammate and disappeared offensively. Karl has to stay on Lawson and get him to be aggressive.
- Nene played an excellent game in the post. Nene was 9-11 shooting (4-8 free throws) for a team high 22 points, had 8 rebounds (3 offensive), 2 steals, and 1 assist. He attacked the rim and punished it by throwing down dunk-after-dunk. One of the best games in the paint I've ever seen from Nene. He has to keep attacking in this series that same way ...
- J.R. Smith played just 17 minutes, was 3-8 shooting for 9 points (0-3 downtown, 3-4 free throws), 1 rebound, 1 assist, and 1 steal. That's not going to get it down for Denver's super-sub. Karl should give Al Harrington's minutes (11 total) to Smith and let him do some work. The Nuggets are a better team when he's involved in the passing game and gets his scoring going. Smith might of had a better shot to contribute tonight, but his minutes were too limited.
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