Also, I no longer have to wonder what some Oklahoma City fans think of me. So, I can check that off my bucket list.
Now we've rewritten history
the one thing we found out
sweet taste of vindication
it turns to ashes in your mouth
I've made many mistakes in my life. Chief among them was when I accidentally wore two kinds of plaid (yikes). Yet, I cannot count yesterday's brief dust-up with some Oklahoma City Thunder fans as one of them. However, since I think this ties neatly into my preview - I will clarify a couple statements I made in yesterday's Golden Nuggets for the benefit of a few Thunder fans.
"It's very clear that, for some reason, the Thunder were NOT prepared for how tough the Nuggets were. In all honesty it seemed like the Thunder were expecting the Nuggets to roll over and play dead for them. How a team that has won jack squat in the playoffs can get that arrogant is a bit perplexing."
The above is the paragraph that (allegedly) got Kevin Durant all a-Twitter (see what I did there?) and led to him calling me an "idiot" in a Tweet that has since been deleted. First off, based on the first quarter of Sunday's game you can argue that the Thunder were not prepared (unlikely with a Scott Brooks team) OR they simply thought it would be easier. I think the last two games of the season series with the Nuggets gave the Thunder a false sense of bravado (as evidenced by the Nuggets calling out the Thunder for being too "cocky" before the series started) and yes arrogance. Let's be perfectly frank people, if the refs weren't calling the "you brushed Durant's jersey" fouls in the first quarter the Thunder would have been down by close to 20. These two teams are evenly matched, and quite frankly neither team should be opening up more than a 10 point lead.
"The Thunder clearly didn't come out to play, but when they did the Nuggets withstood their emotional (and rather annoying) crowd and played the Thunder evenly it showed me quite a bit."
This one REALLY ticked off some of the Thunder faithful. Now – as a point of order – I should have clarified that I was specifically thinking of that big (nearly shirtless) guy with the bullhorn - which if the gentleman's purpose is to annoy then, yes, he accomplished his goal. Seriously, I have no idea what he's shouting at the Nuggets players, but it sounds something like "MUFFFFHDERFSDS MUHHHMUUUU GUH" that sort of thing. In my defense I would hope that you would find some Nuggets fans just as annoying. We aren't supposed to hold hands and sing a chorus of Abraham, Martin and John during the playoffs. I'm sure some of you take as many shots at Nuggets fans as we do you. It's ok. I should have clarified whom I was talking about in the initial column. My bad.
After the NBA admitted it's referee team led by Steve Javie blew the offensive basket interference tip-in by Kendrick Perkins, it occurred to me just how close the Nuggets came to winning. Check that. I wager that if the tip in was disallowed it would have the reverse affect that it did. It probably would have demoralized the Thunder a bit (Nuggets up by one, with one minute to go, and Denver with the ball) and given Denver the chance to extend their lead. Obviously I'm speculating, but it seems like that allowed tip ruined the Nuggets for the duration of the game.
Contain Russell Westbrook. Obviously you can't completely shut him down, but with Durant most likely getting his, it's better to let the likes of Westbrook fire contested jumpers, rather than wide open ones. Shut off the penetration lanes and get a hand in his face on jumpers, and that should help considerably to lower his shooting percentage. If Arron Afflalo was healthy I'd say put him on Westbrook, but at this point it's unlikely he will play. J.R. Smith doesn't play good enough defense to put him on Westbrook, so much like when guarding Durant it will have to be taken in shifts.
Continue to pound the ball with the bigs. Not just with Nene either. The Nuggets have to make Serge Ibaka and Perkins defend every possession like they did in the first game. This seems to wear them out on the defensive end and it seems to limit Ibaka's ability to get shots off on the offensive end. I hope that Karl inserts Timofey Mozgov and Kosta Koufos into the game for that purpose (highly unlikely) – and another all important reason...
Message fouls. The Nuggets weren't making their fouls worthwhile. While Durant was getting the superstar calls, the Nuggets seemed to lay off and not get physical. In my mind if they are going to call a foul if you breath on Durant, you might as well get your money's worth. This is where Koufos and Moz come in handy. When you need fouls to waste, have the two seven footers regulate in the lane and send a message that nothing will be easy inside. Particularly with Westbrook, who seems to feed off of the crowd's energy when he dunks. With KD, the key is to body him up like Ron Artest does and annoy him. You see, much like Carmelo Anthony, Durant starts making iffy decisions when he's annoyed. Keep annoying him and he will start clanging his 40 foot off balance jumpers. When you are willing to be physical with another team, it sets the tone for the rest of the game.
IT'S A TRAP! As pointed out by Denver Stiffs commenter REAPtheThird the Nuggets do need to trap Durant more. Either by double teaming him and using ball denial to keep him from shooting, or by doubling him at the point of attack and force the ball out of his hands. This may work but, it's risky and leaves other players open. Another option is a straight up zone, but George Karl is traditionally reluctant to use the zone. I'm of the mind that Durant will get his regardless of defensive structure, so limiting the other players opportunities seems to be more purdent.
Nuggets of Wisdom
Game 2 folks. Time to get serious. The Nuggets have a great opportunity to learn from the mistakes from Game 1 and correct them. For all the talk of how well Durant and Westbrook did offensively, what gets lost in the shuffle is the Nuggets were ahead for much of the game and if they would have hit their free throws and boxed out better on the Perkins illegal tip-in this could be a completely different story.
No more excuses. Nose to the gindstone, time to get even more physical and step up your defensive game. The offense will come out of good defense. Oh, and as little of Al Harrington as possible would be great. Please devote those minutes to J.R. Smith or the two bench big guys.