The Denver Nuggets dominated the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Thunder’s home opener, 128-95. Nikola Jokic had 28 points, 14 rebounds and 5 assists as the Thunder looked to make him a scorer and he obliged. Michael Porter Jr. had a great game with 20 points and 9 rebounds and was the player OKC could not slow early on either end. Jamal Murray had 19 points and 8 assists with a steady hand on the tiller, and Denver’s bench looked great with 6 assists from Reggie Jackson, 17 points from Peyton Watson and 13 / 7 / 7 line from Christian Braun. Chet Holmgren had a good night offensively with 19 points but only 4 rebounds as the stronger Nuggets squad demolished OKC on the glass 48-29, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had a night to forget with 7 points on 2-for-16 shooting.


Jokic started the scoring with an easy paint flip after backing Holmgren down under the bucket, then followed it up with a near-identical play the next time down. Holmgren responded with a 3 on the other end, then a turn-around jumper for a 5-4 OKC lead. Michael Porter Jr. hit his first jumper matched by a Holmgren dunk on the other end. SGA picked up 2 quick fouls trying to defend Aaron Gordon. A strong Murray putback made it 15-9 Denver in the early going. MPJ buried a 3 and Murray hit Jokic on the fast-break for a traditional 3-point play and a 21-11 lead. Porter and Jokic each started the game with 9 points as OKC struggled to stop Denver’s varied attack. Peyton Watson had a nice putback but OKC also got out on the break a few times with Lou Dort getting a traditional three-point play of his own. Watson had a great block and Reggie Jackson closed the quarter with a 3 to get Denver a 34-23 led.

Murray started the second quarter with a breakaway dunk off a Christian Braun assist. MPJ worked hard on both ends, as did Zeke Nnaji, getting rebounds and second chances. Braun had a nice finish after a hard foul and completed the and-1, but the Thunder kept hanging around at 41-31 with 3 minutes gone. Jokic came back in at 43-33, but Porter went a bit cold as OKC cut the lead to 6. Denver kept attacking the paint though, with runners and free-throw line buckets from Jokic and AG with Braun cutting for passes. The Nuggets went up 62-47 with a strong putback by Gordon. Jokic put up his 20th point of the half on a late-double in the paint by OKC and then this score off the backboard over the entire Thunder defense was brilliant to get Denver to a 69-51 halftime lead.

Out of the half, the Thunder played aggressive defense but Murray had the quick paint pass to Jokic for another bucket as the Nuggets got tips and deflections off their own hard-working defense. The Thunder closed it to 13 points as Denver had a couple of whistles go against them on offense and the Thunder got a drive from SGA and made a 3 from Giddey. But a Murray bounce-in three and a block from Gordon with a score on the other end made it 80-62 Denver. MPJ made a corner three over a close-out by Holmgren, which should get some kind of medal, followed by a late-clock 3 and a Gordon drive that pumped the lead to 90-67. Jokic grabbed a seat at the end of the quarter with 14 rebounds already, but despite OKC’s attempt to up the pressure on defense a Reggie Jackson steal and dunk in the final minute kept Denver’s lead very healthy at 97-75 through 3.

Peyton Watson shook Holmgren for that reverse dunk to open the fourth, and the Thunder didn’t have much left. Jamal Murray came out of the game after burying a shot to put Denver up 30, Christian Braun had a nice transition dunk, and Denver emptied its bench with half the quarter to go, as they should have. Denver finished the first week of its title defense a perfect 3-0 and looked about as perfect as they could in defeating Oklahoma City


Three Thoughts

Denver’s offense is such a tough cover. The normal starters are almost impossible to stop when they’re even marginally on-target. KCP can have a quiet half when MPJ is going off, or AG may only get putbacks if Jokic is gonna score 20 by halftime, but because all the weapons have to be respected there’s nothing for the opposition to do. OKC is such a young team, and they got a lesson tonight from the world champions who took them seriously. The first bench rotation included Jamal Murray and MPJ out there together and gave the Nuggets plenty of firepower, ball-handling and rebounding to handle any situation. There was nowhere for the Thunder to make up ground once Shai Gilgeous-Alexander came out a little slow. Denver’s opponents aren’t allowed to have dips in output. Anything less than a full gas pedal to the floor won’t cut it unless your defense is a buzzsaw – and there are very few buzzsaws left in the NBA on that end.

Chet Holmgren will be very good, but OKC doesn’t have the mix right just yet. The Thunder have the picks and the young players to go get whatever they need to get the exact mix to become contenders. Denver is looking for the right bench mix, and definitely found a nice option with Murray and MPJ playing together early in the game, but Denver only has to sort out a couple of its reserves. The Thunder have to figure out how to take all these nice young talents and meld them into a team. There’s no shame in that – they are so young that it SHOULD take a couple of years to get this right. But for tonight, the Nuggets brought their A-game and the Thunder had no answers at all to even consider slowing them down.

Knowing your role is a powerful thing. The Thunder came out in this game and decided to defend Jokic 1-on-1 with Holmgren. Jokic had 22 points at halftime, but finished the game with just 5 assists. But Jamal Murray had 8, Reggie Jackson 6 and Christian Braun somehow had 7. Zeke Nnaji took just one shot but Peyton Watson had 17 points. Nnaji was there to hustle and play defense today, and he was great at that in his 15 minutes. MPJ put up 20 and 9 on 14 shots while Gordon might have made only put-backs and tough paint buckets, but everyone played hard and attacked the Thunder wherever there was a weakness. If ever there was a game that felt like “Not me, just us” this had all the hallmarks. All game they had swarming defense on SGA that made him uncomfortable from the jump, with a special shout-out to KCP for his great one-on-one work. In the closing minutes, Julian Strawther had a 2-on-1 breakaway where he could pull up or drive the hoop for the glory score and instead bounced the pass to Braxton Key for a bucket. Denver is not individually greedy, but they look endlessly hungry for team success.

I couldn’t want to see anything more in the first week of their title defense.