The Denver Nuggets traveled to Oklahoma City in the second-to-last game of what has been a long but eye -opening preseason for the young squad. Denver was without key players Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Wilson Chandler (rest) and Darrell Arthur as they took on Russell Westbrook and the Thunder for the first time since the departure of Kevin Durant.
The Thunder won the tip and Adams and Nurkic traded buckets down low to start the quarter off. Early on the Thunder were able to capitalize in the transition game, including a couple of long twos made by rookie Domantas Sabonis. The Nuggets were aggressive, drawing fouls and getting in the bonus early but otherwise not executing much on offense both inside and from three. Steven Adams dominated Jusuf Nurkic early to the tune of 11 points on 5-5 shooting, a rough awakening for the Bosnian. Overall Denver struggled against the Thunder pick and roll, conceding six first quarter assists to Westbrook. Will Barton's strong first quarter kept the Nuggets in the game, as OKC took the first quarter 32-28.
Denver came into the second quarter ice, ice cold, allowing the Thunder to take a 15 point lead before a foul on Gallinari put the Nuggets on the board almost five minutes in. The shooting woes continued as the Nuggets bricked anything and everything 18 point lead before Jokic scored with 5:00 left in the half. While Denver struggled to do anything on offense, the relentless attack of Westbrook and Enes Kanter was too much as the Thunder built a lead of 21 points before Gallo picked things up a bit. At halftime, the Nuggets were shooting 26.7 percent from the field and 15.4 percent from deep, and consequently found themselves down 59-41.
The Nuggets came out firing in the second half, going on a quick 6-0 run led by Nikola Jokic which forced a Billy Donovan timeout. Gallinari tried to get things going for Denver, hitting a long two and aggressively drawing the foul to get to the line. The Nuggets whittled the lead down, but subsequently gave up an 11-0 run to go down by 20 again. From there, both teams traded baskets and no one from Denver was able to heat up. At the end of the third, Oklahoma City was up 82-62.
The Nuggets started the fourth with a lineup of Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley, Robbie Hummel, Juancho Hernangomez and Jarnell Stokes. Murray and Hernangomez got hot early in the quarter and the Nuggets rallied to get within single digits, but the Thunder bench led by Ersan Ilyasova responded with a run of their own to keep the Nuggets at bay. This would be the theme of the fourth quarter: the Nuggets kept themselves within striking distance, but the Thunder held on to win 97-87.
Observations and Game Notes
1. Jamal Murray is human. Jamal Murray had his first bad game of the preseason, and as a developing rookie it certainly won't be his last. But he struggled hard from the floor early on, missing his first seven shots before finally getting one to fall. The good news is that his poor shooting didn't seem to discourage him from shooting the ball as he continued to try and make plays and contribute in other ways, and eventually his shots began falling. He finished with nine points on 4 of 16 shooting.
2. Nurkic struggled against a big center. This was the first game that Jusuf Nurkic started against a center of comparable size (he sat against Minnesota), and he had his worst game of the preseason on both ends of the floor. Thunder big man Steven Adams had his way with Nurkic, beating him by a plethora of ways in the post on offense and severely disrupting Nurkic's ability to score while on defense.
Adams finished with 17 points and seven rebounds, while Nurkic struggled offensively. The Bosnian was very inefficient down low, scoring only four points on 1-8 shooting. However, Nurkic continued to excel on the glass, grabbing a team-high 13 rebounds.
3. Three-point shooting continues to struggle. The Nuggets continued their poor three-point shooting performance, going 4 for 25 from downtown on a night when the shots just weren't falling. The issue wasn't the quality of shots the Nuggets were getting - most of the three point attempts were wide open. It was simply one of those nights for the Nuggets when the hoop seemed to get smaller and smaller with each miss. Unfortunately, many will see this final percentage and claim the world is ending and that nothing has changed with this team, and they are partially right. Prior to this game the Nuggets were shooting 31.3 percent from deep during the preseason, which isn't amazing and leaves room for improvement. Overall though, the Nuggets are getting quality looks for deep and at some point these open shots will start falling.
The Nuggets are good at drawing fouls. The only reason Denver was in the game during the first quarter was its ability to get to the free throw line and actually make the shots. Oklahoma City was already in the penalty just four minutes into the game thanks to a steady attack off of the pick and roll from Nurkic and Jokic. The Jurkic lineup wasn't phenomenal by any means tonight, but if they can wear down opposing front courts at the foul line then that's a huge advantage for Denver. It should also be noted that Gallo had a very Gallo-esque night, scoring a game high 18 points on 4-13 shooting from the field and 9-11 from the line.