The Denver Nuggets logged their second straight blowout defeat, falling to the Thunder 117-93 in Oklahoma City. Danilo Gallinari and Will Barton shared the team lead with 15 points apiece, with most of Barton's coming during the irrelevant 4th quarter. The Nuggets made only 38% of their shots to the Thunder's 52%, and also gave up 52% from three-point range to Oklahoma City, allowing Durant and company to go 13-for-25 from behind the arc.
The referees were not interested in calling fouls in this game, with both teams combining for fewer fewer free throws (37) than the Timberwolves alone attempted against the Nuggets on Friday (41). Denver stayed within range in the first half thanks to a 7-for-17 mark behind the arc, but the Thunder put the game away with a devastating 5 minute, 18-4 burst coming out of halftime that pushed the lead from 8 to 26 and put the game away early. No Thunder starter played the 4th quarter, and to add injury to insult both Joffrey Lauvergne and Nikola Jokic left the game with possible back strains. It was a painful game on all fronts for Denver.
The game started off on a good note as Danilo Gallinari drained a three off a screen to open the game for the Nuggets. Gallo went one-on-one against Kevin Durant early and forced the Thunder star into two fouls and some bench time in the first. Gallo had 10 points in the first 7 minutes of the game, but the lack of paint play and penetration of the Oklahoma City defense was noticeable from the start. Emmanuel Mudiay hit a tough shot in the lane, then curled around to the top of the key for a long jumper to help the Nuggets take the lead 12-10 midway through the first quarter among early signs of life. A give and go to Kenneth Faried netted another bucket at the rim and made it 16-12 - which incidentally was the Nuggets' largest lead of the night. The Thunder made a couple of transition buckets off of turnovers to take the lead, and the lack of foul calls started to bother the Nuggets near the end of the first, especially Gallo, who had several shots on which he expected a trip to the stripe that never materialized. The Thunder went on a 12-1 run as Denver stayed perimeter-oriented and wound up trailing Oklahoma City 29-22 after one.
The team stayed in touch with the Thunder through the 3-point shot and by judicious turnovers mostly through Jameer Nelson taking charges and fouls on screens. Foye hit a three to close the lead down to two, 37-35. Durant came back in and nailed a three to follow D.J. Augustin's, which pushes the lead back to 8 for the Thunder, 45-37. The Nuggets still had single-digit paint points and the Thunder were pushing the pace and forcing the action while Denver either couldn't or wouldn't do the same. The Thunder made 9-of-10 shots in a stretch that pushed the lead to 10, 55-45, but Joffrey Lauvergne hit another 3 to keep the Nuggets in it. Joffrey had 11 straight points for the Nuggets in the second, but with 0.9 seconds left the Nuggets couldn't get off a shot and trailed at the half 58-50.
Mudiay was shown up by Russell Westbrook to start the second half as Harris had his pocket picked and Westbrook was just too strong on his drive. Gallo and Durant exchanged foul shots, followed by a blocked shot on Mudiay. The Thunder continued out-wrestling the Nuggets for rebounds and taking shots in the paint that the Nuggets couldn't get. Ibaka swished a long two on a pick play and the Thunder went up early in the second half by 14. Westbrook pounded home a dunk after a tie-up tip situation as Westbrook schooled Mudiay on situational awareness again, and then Russell skied over every Nuggets defender on a rebound dunk over every Nuggets defender. Durant was unstoppable on a three-point play, and that 18-4 run to start the 3rd quarter by the Thunder took a tease at competition and turned it into a blowout. The Nuggets stopped running anything on offense, settling entirely for isolations and long shots. Randy Foye kept heaving clanked threes to no avail. Even at the end of the third the Thunder were still fighting for every rebound. Nelson gets a double tech with West. The lead was 96-70 lead after three quarters, and the game was essentially over.
That made the whole 4th quarter into garbage time. I'd say the Nuggets offense devolved into a near-utter lack of ball movement and long jumpers, but it was that way for most of the game. Will Barton and Darrell Arthur combined for all but one bucket by the Nuggets over the first eight minutes of the quarter, but that's not to say they played sound basketball. In one sequence, Arthur hit the side of the backboard with one shot, hustled up his terrible rebound and then promptly threw up a six-foot bank shot that missed the rim by a foot during a 4 minute scoreless stretch for Denver. Jokic left the game with 2:45 to go while holding his back in pain, causing a J.J. Hickson sighting on the floor for the first time this season. Gary Harris hit a couple of nice buckets at the end, but that kind of trimming was far too little and much too late. No Thunder starter played in the 4th and yet the final margin was still 24, at 117-93.
1) Westbrook schooled Mudiay. He knew where to be and what to do, while Emmanuel had no such luxury. 6 points, 5 assists and 4 turnovers for Mudiay, on 3-of-14 shooting was crippling. He wasn't looking to score his own early which made his few drives into ineffective dishes, and his outside jumpshots later were no more effective than anyone else - which is a problem on a team with no stars. Someone has to be available to bail the team out or reset the mojo and while it might be unfair to put that on Mudiay's shoulders in game three of his NBA career, that's the burden that comes with being a franchise savior. His passing, aggression and shooting touch were all absent tonight.
2) Gallo could not stop Durant after the first quarter or keep up with him. 3-for-13 doesn't cut it, and not being able to get the foul calls early really threw Danilo's game off. Galloi is going to have to remember that he's back in the NBA now and not Eurobasket, and he won't get those calls all the time here. When he's not getting them he'll have to figure out a Plan B, because he's the only legitimate scoring threat among the starters. As Gallo goes, so go the Nuggets - so he needs not to go in the tank when things aren't going Denver's way.
3) No plan of attack. The Nuggets need to realize that officials won't always call games the same way. They saw the Minnesota Timberwolves destroy them from the line and went hard for those foul calls in the first half, getting very few trips to the line for their effort. It was obvious that Denver planned to make up the difference in floor scoring from the stripe, but it never materialized and definitely disheartened Denver in the second half once the Thunder took control of the game. At one point the fast-break point differential was 23-3. The Nuggets didn't run, couldn't shoot from two and once the three-ball went away this game went from a struggle to downright painful. They had no answer for the Thunder and even the backups could not formulate an offensive identity. Against a team that should have been tired, the Nuggets had the worse energy, getting out-rebounded, out-hustled and out-run. The cutters and ball movement from the first game have been missing from the last two, and while the turnovers have decreased so has the play-making. The Nuggets don't have the shooters to play the perimeter jump-shooting game, and need to fix their lack of paint points and hustle buckets quickly.
Quote of the game: "They're like Noah's Ark: they have two of everything." That was Michael Malone talking about the Thunder. We need to find one of everything and go from there.