Thunder at Nuggets recap: Denver 14 point third quarter prevents team from dancing

James Harden lines up another open look as Kosta Koufos tries to close out on the shot late.

As 32 college teams start their dance tonight, the Denver Nuggets find themselves with two left feet and stumble to the Oklahoma City Thunder 103-90.

It has been a long day for Denver Nuggets fans. Probably even a tougher day for the Nuggets players (who learned Nene had been traded to the Washington Wizards), who then they had to go out and play the best team in the Western Conference and their division rival. The Thunder came to town and went boom from beyond the arc with a 12-25 night from three point land. The Nuggets continue to dare teams to beat them by knocking down open shots, and their opponents continue to prove they can connect when left open. The ugly defensive dance continues ...

JaVale McGee's interior presence and Wilson Chandler's perimeter defense can't get here soon enough.

We shouldn't expect the newest Nuggets to arrive at the Pepsi Center and for everything that's ailing the Denver defense. Afterall, giving your opponent wide open jumpers, layups, and three pointers is a team wide issue. Not something that can be solved by bringing in a couple fresh faces.

To start the game, the Nuggets used Kenneth Faried and Timofey Mozgov. The Nuggets were pushing the pace and hitting the boards, but they were also fouling the likes of Kevin Durant a bit too much. Down four points after the first, 29-25, the Nuggets looked interested and even had some nice energy. But Denver found themselves down by 12 points early in the second quarter when the second unit came in and the quality of play declined. They did battle back behind some aggressive offense and some cold shooting by the Thunder players, as well to take a 51-50 lead into the locker room.

Things were looking pretty good for the Nuggets. The signs of struggle wore off as the Nuggets used a 15-6 run to close the half and Denver was out-rebounding the Thunder 24-20 (6-4 on the offensive glass). The hustle was there and the spark from the end of the first half was sure to carry over into the third quarter ... right? Wrong.

The Nuggets came out of the locker room looking like they had just eaten Thanksgiving dinner. There was no energy and the team got caught napping as the Thunder started the second half with four straight free throws and never looked back. If Chris Berman, of ESPN, were calling the game he could have said the Nuggets offense was, "rumbling, stumbling and stumbling and stumbling and fumbling."

The best case of the Nuggets lackluster second half? Danilo Gallinari went 5-9 in the first (3-5 from deep) for 13 points and then went just 1-4 in the second half and finished with just 15 points.

Ty Lawson was timid against the Thunder and was often looking to dish the ball and only took it to the rack a few times. He finished the night just 9 points and 5 assists, but had 8 rebounds. OKC, particularly Russell Westbrook, do a great job of keeping Lawson at bay. If Ty does get past Westbrook, he does look unsure of himself when Serge Ibaka is patrolling the paint ... the things a shot blocker can do.

Denver was outscored in the third 28-14 and found themselves down 78-65 heading into the final quarter. The game was already decided by that point as the two teams traded buckets in the fourth.

Denver's defense can feed the offense and once Lawson and Company start running and gunning the defensive energy picks up even more. Without Nene in the post, Denver will need to rely on pushing the pace even more until they can figure out what they are trying to do on offense. But just because one side of the floor might be missing a little something (Nene did miss 16 games this season), there is still no reason why the defensive side of the ball has to be missing so much.

George Karl has his work cut out for him trying to solve his team's defensive struggles. During one point in the game, Maya Starks reported that Karl asked his team during a timeout if he was speaking another language because they were ignoring the defensive game plan. It would seem the Nuggets players have been ignoring the game plan on D for quite some time because the same issues keep coming up.

Opponents get too many open shots from the outside, guards penetrate the lane too easily, and the Nuggets don't have a lot of answers for the pick and roll either.

The offensive burden will fall heavier on Gallo, Lawson, Arron Afflalo, and eventually Wilson Chandler too. But the defensive problems continue to be something the whole team must get better at if they expect to continue on their playoff push.

Views you can use:

  • Al Harrington hurt his left leg at about the 7:00 mark of the third quarter ... not sure how serious that one could be.
  • In the first half, Karl's first substitution was Big Al for Faried. In the second half it was Big Al for Mozgov. I was curious as to why Kosta Koufos wasn't put in for Moz, like he was in the first quarter ... Kouf didn't see much burn, again, until the game was out of reach.
  • The Nuggets were just 5-22 from beyond the arc and just 17-25 from the foul line.

Nate_Timmons on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/Nate_Timmons
ntimmons73@yahoo.com

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