The Denver Nuggets finally got healthy after spending weeks missing key players from their rotation. Coming off the All-Star break the Nuggets faced the Oklahoma City Thunder in Oklahoma City to kick off the stretch run of the season. The combination of the extended break as well as trying to re-introduce several players into the rotation led to a rusty night for Denver. Despite a spirited effort from Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, the Nuggets didn’t have enough to overcome a stellar night from Chris Paul. Denver runs out of gas in the end and loses 113-101.
The Nuggets had their opening night starters available for the first time in forever and it was classic Jokic in the paint tossing in soft floaters early on. Otherwise both sides definitely looked the part of two teams who hadn’t played for over a week. Not many buckets but a lot of turnovers and bricks. That continued through the halfway point of the quarter with each team grabbing bucket here or there but no one getting any traction...other than Jokic who had nine points in seven minutes. In fact with three minutes remaining in the quarter only Nikola and Murray had scored for Denver who trailed by three. That continued to be true for another minute and a half even though Jokic and Murray were both on the bench. Naturally Oklahoma’s lead grew as they went on a 10-0 run. Monte Morris finally nailed a floater with just under a minute to go but the Thunder had a ten point lead at the quarter’s end.
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Torrey Craig hit a three, Denver’s first of the game, to open the second quarter while Michael Malone used a short leash on Michael Porter Jr. and had already re-inserted Murray into the game. The Nuggets continued to struggle without Jokic on the floor. He came back in just before the eight minute mark with Denver trailing by ten. Joker wasn’t able to get shots in the lane this time around, but that’s because he got fouled every time he was down there and feasted at the line. That sparked an 11-0 run for the Nuggets that culminated with Jokic passing out of the double team to a wide open Murray who swished the three. Shortly after that Murray had a scary moment where he went down with what appeared to be a leg injury after his foot slid out from under him. Being the warrior that he is, Jamal would be fine after a timeout. The Nuggets maintained their lead with the quarter closing but got sloppy with the ball and let OKC get ahead. Denver fought back while Paul did work for OKC which led to the half ending at a 48-48 tie.
Denver opened the second half cold which let the Thunder pull ahead once again behind a 9-1 run. Denver came back to tie the game with a 10-0 run of their own that Jokic sparked with a three and finished with a soft hook over Steven Adams. After a timeout the Thunder stopped the run and got some solid play through Luguentz Dort which kept them about a possession ahead. Paul got hot after that and led a run almost by himself which included a four point play. Once again it was Jokic and Murray responding on the other end for Denver in a tight game near the end of the third quarter. Denver’s bench came in (minus MPJ, plus Murray) and kept the pace with the Thunder with the quarter closing. Jerami Grant finished the third with two free throws to pull the Nuggets within one.
The Nuggets opened the fourth with the full bench lineup and they struggled to get points just like they did in the first half. Eventually they would find some rhythm and got a couple baskets from Porter to keep close but the Thunder had grown the lead to eight by the time Jokic got back into the game. Gary Harris took a nasty spill on a drive to the basket but would end up being ok and sinking two free throws before Barton knocked down a three followed by a rare Jokic dunk to put the Nuggets back in it. It was Paul responding again on the Thunder side and then Danilo Gallari with a clutch and-one. Time was beginning to be a factor for the Nuggets who still trailed by six with three mines to go. They didn’t have another run in them and started to fall apart in the closing minutes. OKC would keep in front by double digits in the final minute and close out the victory.