The Thunder got 82 points from Enes Kanter, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, beating the Nuggets 110-104 in Denver for their 31st win this season.
Denver got a big game from the Manimal, Kenneth Faried, who had 17 points and 15 rebounds in 28 minutes. Danilo Gallinari lead the Nuggets in scoring with 27, but it wasn't enough to overcome the Thunder tonight.
The Nuggets started the game with an attitude - not like an annoying, cocky attitude, just a we're-not-getting-pushed-around-tonight attitude. They were aggressive on offense, repeatedly getting to the rim for dunks. On defense, they played the Thunder close without fouling, drawing their first foul 10 minutes into the game. Gallinari had 14 points, helping boost his team to a 31-25 lead.
The second quarter started with Sean Kilpatrick getting his first points as a member of the Nuggets, knocking down a 3-pointer from the wing as the Nuggets went on a small run. The second unit got some big buckets from Will Barton, but the offense went stagnant, standing around waiting for something to happen and the Thunder worked back into the game.
Enes Kanter is a mess on defense, but he's undeniably talented on offense. The Thunder's rookie point guard Cam Payne was a menace on defense, and worked with Kanter on offense to close the lead before the Thunder starters gave their team their first lead of the game. Westbrook went kaboom on a pick and roll - Gallo saw it coming, started sprinting to the rim off the screen, and Westbrook still beat him for a one-handed dunk.
Gallo closed the half with 20 points, and the Nuggets best player lead all players in scoring. Mudiay went 2 for 8 from the field, for 5 points with 3 assists. Faried nearly picked up a double-double with 8 points and 9 rebounds, but the Nuggets only shot 36.7 percent in the half while the Thunder shot 48 percent.
The third quarter was sloppy for both teams, with big runs by both teams that ended with the Thunder holding on to a 5-point lead. The refs let the two teams play, with Westbrook tackling Mudiay for a steal and no call, while the Nuggets could mug Kanter in the post with no whistle being sounded.
Mudiay had a nice couple of plays, including a beautiful pass to Jokic as the shot-clock went down (video courtesy of An Nguyen). Mudiay hustled on an errant inbounds pass from Faried, diving into Chris Marlowe and Scott Hastings to save the ball, which prompted some interesting stories from the two veteran announcers.
The fourth quarter wasn't great for Denver. The Thunder had 10 offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter, and that doomed the Nuggets. Their defense forced missed shots, but a defensive possession isn't over until they secure the rebound. Kanter, Durant and Westbrook took over, and the Nuggets had too little too late.
Kanter ate Denver up. The Turkish big man had 23 points and 8 rebounds in 22 minutes, using his size to get offensive rebounds and easy looks at the rim. When he comes off the bench, his defense isn't quite the liability it would be if he was asked to start. He definitely was a difficult guard for Darrell Arthur and Joffrey Lauvergne. Jusuf Nurkic was active, but didn't play - hard to imagine Kanter having as much success against the Nuggets enforcer.
Sloppy play doomed Denver. When the Nuggets needed to get everything they could in the fourth quarter, they had three straight turnovers and the game got away from them. A NBA team that wants to make the playoffs can't go five minutes in the final quarter without scoring - just can't happen. The Thunder love offensive rebounds, and everyone has to be committed to team rebounding on defense against them. That didn't happen every possession, and as a result, the Nuggets lost. Thunder finished with 16 offensive boards, with Westbrook and Kanter snagging four each.
A young team lost to a veteran team. Durant and Westbrook have been in close games, and they decided they weren't losing to the Nuggets tonight. The Nuggets came out confident, but a few huge plays by Westbrook demoralized the Nuggets and they couldn't recover. When the Nuggets needed someone to take over, Gallo wasn't able to do it all on his own.
The Nuggets guards have potential, but lots of growing still to do. Mudiay and Harris struggled to score, but had flashes of greatness against one of the greatest point guards of all time.
The Nuggets fall to 16-26, and play the Memphis Grizzlies in Denver on January 21.
Join us at Jake's Sports & Spirits (3800 Walnut Street, Denver, CO 80205) as our Nuggets take on the Jazz in Utah at 7pm.
Attendees can win Denver Stiffs T-shirts and Nuggets tickets and Jake's will be serving 50-cent wings for us all night long.
We hope to see you there!