In an elimination game, against Russell Westbrook, the Nuggets utterly collapsed. They held a late lead, but no lead is safe for Westbrook, Ken Mauer, and the rest of the world out to make Denver’s fans relive the same sad reality over and over again. Westbrook hit a three at the buzzer to give the Thunder a 106-105 walk-off victory. They also gave up the 42nd triple double to let Russ break Oscar Robertson’s record. I hate everything.
The Nuggets were inhibited by injuries yet again today. Emmanuel Mudiay and Will Barton were able to suit up, but Kenneth Faried was out with a lower back flare-up, and Jameer Nelson remained out with a sore calf. Denver started Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Nikola Jokic to begin the game. Andre Roberson was back for the Thunder, and to start, he and Steven Adams bothered Gallinari and Jokic. Both were surprised by the physicality initially but began to adjust as the game went on. Gallinari picked up two steals of Taj Gibson on the other end as well, helping Denver crawl out of an early hole. Chandler helped out with a couple of nice threes as well.
Surprisingly, Mudiay was the first substitution off the bench, making an immediate impact by generating a turnover on one end and finding Gallinari for a three on the other. Gallo really started to heat up, hitting a catch-and-shoot three on a Plumlee drive and kick, as well as a dunk after cutting for a Jokic assist. Gallo had 12 of Denver’s first 22 points, helping Denver out of the hole they had fallen into initially. The Nuggets fell asleep a little bit to end the quarter, but remained in contact with the Thunder, only down 27-26 at the end of the first.
Nuggets down 27-26 end of 1— T.J. McBride (@BSN_McBride) April 9, 2017
Jokic 4p 3r 1a
Gallinari 12p 2r
Chandler 6p 2r
Mudiay 2p 2a
Nuggets out-rebounded 17-8
Both teams started out cold to begin the quarter, and a Chandler three helped break the silence at just past the 10 minute mark. This seemed to kickstart Mudiay, who grabbed a defensive rebound, hit a layup, grabbed a steal, converted a second layup, and grabbed ANOTHER steal, an encouraging sign for the young guard. He did travel after that, but take the bad with the good! Murray also had a nice dunk, which helped Denver started the second quarter on an 11-2 run.
Westbrook came back in and proceeded to do everything for the Thunder, helping bring his team back into striking position of the Nuggets. He was doing Westbrook things: scoring on the midrange pull ups, grabbing defensive rebounds, and pushing the ball up the court at light speed to generate easy assists. The starters fought to keep the lead though, with Murray hitting some shots and Jokic hitting a three. Denver led Oklahoma City 53-52 going into halftime. At this point, Denver had consistent production across the board, led by Gallinari and Jokic.
Gallinari: 12 points, 3 rebounds— Chris Dempsey (@chrisadempsey) April 9, 2017
Jokic: 11 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists
Chandler: 9 points, 5 rebounds#Nuggets
To begin the third quarter Gallinari and Jokic combined for two Gallo buckets, with the second being an And-1. Both guys continued to dominate the third quarter, especially Gallinari, combined for the first 16 points of the quarter for Denver. Westbrook continued to respond, but the Nuggets defenders were hounding him closely, forcing some misses. At this point, Gallinari started absolutely cooking, reaching the 30 point mark on a variety of jumpers from the perimeter and post ups inside.
After the initial burst from the starters, things slowed down for Denver, as Westbrook helped steady the tide. Westbrook then left the game just one assist away from the record triple double, making history wait. Gallinari continued to be aggressive, grabbing a new season high in the third quarter. Roy Hibbert made a surprise appearance in this game, with Jokic and Mason Plumlee both in foul trouble, as Denver continued to gain momentum. They led at the end of the fourth quarter 91-81.
The offense to begin the quarter was very discombobulated for the Nuggets, but they were saved by generating turnovers out of the Thunder’s second unit on the other end. Mudiay eventually broke the ice for Denver on a nice drive to the rim. Plumlee was clearly overmatched by Enes Kanter in this game from a size and skill standpoint, but Plumlee fought incredibly hard, forcing Kanter (and others) into bad decisions. Westbrook came back in, and the crowd CLEARLY knew how close he was: one assist away. Kanter and Domantas Sabonis both missed opportunities to get him that last assist, and on the other end, Mudiay was scoring Denver’s only points of the quarter to keep them ahead.
After a few more missed opportunities, Semaj Christon hit a three pointer to give Westbrook the record, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation, as they should. The game was still to be played though, and while the Nuggets had a double digit lead, the Thunder made it more interesting. In a major turn of events, the referees gave Jokic an ABSURD flagrant 1 foul, followed by an ABSURD technical foul because Jokic argued a phantom call. The Thunder hit every free throw, cutting the lead to just four points with 29 seconds left after a Wilson Chandler charge. Westbrook scored a quick layup to cut the lead to just to points with 27 seconds left. Jokic was given an opportunity late to ice the game, but he missed the shot, and the Thunder called a timeout. Westbrook nailed a three at the buzzer from 36 feet. Game over. Playoffs done.
2016-17 Most Valuable Player, Russell Westbrook. You didn't know? Another clutch performance. pic.twitter.com/PeC8rcx4kG— Adam Joseph (@AdamJosephSport) April 9, 2017
Russell Westbrook was on a mission, and he finally succeeded
With 23 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists at halftime, all Westbrook had to do in the second half was pick up four assists. He eventually did in, after a few close calls, passing Oscar Robertson for his 42nd triple double, the most in a single season. He finished with 50 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists, and a big ol’ “LOL” to the Nuggets’ playoff hopes. Westbrook is my pick for MVP this season after his consistent dominance all year. It used to be James Harden, but after watching Harden to close the season, it’s clear that Westbrook’s dominance over the game of basketball is unmatched right now. Congratulations to Westbrook for breaking the record. I’m disappointed it comes at this moment.
It’s quite possible Danilo Gallinari read the preview
This morning, I posed the question in the preview of whether Gallo would show up in a big game after faltering against the Blazers on March 28th. Well, he might have read that at some point, because in the first and the third quarter today, he came out and absolutely caught fire. The Nuggets needed a lift from either Gallo or Chandler today, as their offense is at its best when a forward is functioning as one of the efficient scorers. Mission accomplished, as Gallo had 34 points and 10 rebounds on 12/20 shooting, a great night for him in what may be his final home game in a Nuggets uniform.
This is a depressing way to end the playoff hopes
Until the Nuggets aren’t treated like crap on their own floor by the officiating, and until they acquire or develop a superstar that will draw fouls and hit shots in the clutch, then they will continue to rip all of our hearts out. Nothing more can be said here. The Nuggets completely collapsed late. Nothing went right, and nobody other than Nikola Jokic scored in the last four minutes of the game. Congrats to the Portland Trail Blazers. They earned it way more than the Nuggets did. THIS IS THE CULMINATION of heartbreak that this Nuggets team has put its fans through during the entirety of the season after losses to the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers, and many more. The last three minutes of regulation are Denver’s worst nightmare, and until they rectify these woes, there will never be more than an average team.
Now, I will leave a melody of sad songs for Nuggets fans to listen to and grieve...unbelievable.