2 Steals by Kevin Durant to go with his 25 points, 14 rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots

3 Assists for Kendrick Perkins, part of 17 for the starting lineup

12 Rebounds for Thabo Sefolosha, who also had three blocks, two steals, five assists and eight points

12 Blocked shots for the Thunder on the night, including three by Serge Ibaka

17 Points for Serge Ibaka, in addition to eight rebounds

28-20 Scoring differential in the Thunder’s favor in the fourth quarter

38 Points for Russell Westbrook, a season-high, in addition to six rebounds, five assists and two steals

50-43 Rebounding advantage for the Thunder, which got 43 from its starters

March 1st, 2013

DENVER – After a thrilling 48 minutes of high-intensity basketball, the only shame is that either the Thunder or the Denver Nuggets had to go home with a loss.

Unfortunately for Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club, the Nuggets made one more play than the Thunder did. Ty Lawson hit a buzzer-beating 23-foot contested jump shot with 0.2 seconds remaining to complete a 105-103 victory over the Thunder. After jumping out to an 11-point lead in the first quarter, the Thunder withstood big Nuggets runs in the second and fourth quarters, eventually re-taking the lead late in the fourth quarter. Denver is the best interior scoring team in the league by a wide margin and it showed in the first half as they racked up 40 points in the paint, but the Thunder, led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, clamped down in the second half.

“We just started playing defense,” Durant said. “We held them in the half court. We are a good defensive team. We hold teams to one shot pretty well. We gave them the lead for a second and then the game kind of flip-flopped at the end. They hit a tough shot to beat us.”

A 12-point Nuggets lead was never daunting to the Thunder, despite playing in a raucous Pepsi Center that felt of a playoff environment. Despite facing that margin with 10:39 left in the fourth quarter, Brooks’ squad methodically chipped away, eventually tying the game at 91-91 with just under five minutes remaining and then taking a 99-96 lead with just under three minutes remaining. Although it didn’t prove to quite be enough, the Thunder once again showed its head coach its mettle.

“Knowing the team like I know it, we’re not going to give up,” Brooks said. “We always seem to somehow, someway, fight back and give ourselves a chance to win. We did that tonight. They played a little bit better. They made one more play than us. That’s just the way it is. We have to figure it out going into the next game and play a little bit better.”

A major catalyst behind the comeback was the play of Russell Westbrook, who exploded for a season-high 38 points, 23 of which came in the first half. He seemingly kept a 10-point deficit from becoming a 20-point disadvantage just by relentlessly attacking the paint, drawing fouls and finding ways to convert through contact. The three-time All-Star’s energy, effort and intensity was palpable tonight and it earned high praise from his head coach after the game.

“He’s a passionate player,” Brooks said of Westbrook. “He has to play that way. That’s his imprint on the game. He’s going to leave everything on the floor. Russell never leaves the game saying, ‘I wish I would have played harder’. When you have a team full of guys like that like we do, and they do too, you live with the results.”

Another one of those players that Brooks referenced was defensive stalwart Thabo Sefolosha. The Thunder guard racked up 12 rebounds, eight points, five assists, three blocks and two steals in 37 minutes of action and was particularly disrupting defensively down the stretch.

When the Thunder and Nuggets went extra small with a lineup of basically four guards for each squad, Sefolosha took it upon himself to be a presence in the paint. He was happy with the way he impacted the game, but knows that the team has the ability to impose its will better in the future.

“I just felt like I needed to go and grab some rebounds,” Sefolosha. “As far as being physical. We have to play the same way for 48 minutes. I think we let them dictate the game in the first half. We played to their hands for too many minutes instead of playing our game.”

Turning Point:
The biggest turning point in this one came in the second quarter when the Nuggets put together a 16-0 run to turn a 29-21 Thunder lead into a 37-29 Denver advantage. The Thunder battled back however, and even managed to take a three-point lead with 2:50 remaining in the game at 99-96. The Nuggets responded, however, with a 5-0 run that turned the game around, giving them an opportunity for Ty Lawson to hit the game winner with 0.2 seconds left. Wilson Chandler hit a free throw, Danilo Gallinari hit two free throws and then Andre Miller hit a runner to make it 101-99 Nuggets. After two Durant free throws, Chandler made a layup, Durant responded with a bank shot, setting up Lawson’s contested 23-foot jumper.

Plays the box score won't show, first half:
Great job of scrapping by Durant and Sefolosha to create steal and fast break situation. Nice possession on defense by Perkins and the entire team to force a late, contested three-pointer, then Sefolosha steps in and draws a charge in transition. Good awareness by Sefolosha to snag a loose ball on offense, then pump fake to free himself up for a bucket. Solid defensive positioning by Jackson to force a baseline drive into a Nuggets turnover. Collison tips a ball to himself repeatedly to regain possession.

Plays the box score won't show:
Slick pass in the lane out of a pick-and-roll as Westbrook finds Perkins for a push shot. Nice passing out of a trap out top as Durant hit Perkins who found ibaka for a layup. Wonderful patience by Sefolosha and Perkins to make the timely pass to create a layup. Sefolosha hustles to save a ball in bounds and it leads to a driving Durant and-one. Great toughness by Jackson to play tough defense then step in a draw a charge in transition. Perfect closeout by Sefolosha to block a corner three.

“It’s a tough environment, a tough gym to play in… I think we got better in the second half. That’s the positive that we have to take away from it.” – Thabo Sefolosha