Thunder vs. Denver Nuggets Game Recap – Jan. 7, 2017

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

It was a block party on Saturday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena, but not just because the Thunder swatted 11 Denver Nuggets shots. Instead, it was the repeated post-ups by Thunder big men down on the low block that initiated Thunder offense, generated high percentage shots and scored the Thunder a 121-106 victory.

Point guard Russell Westbrook started to feed the bigs early on. Steven Adams scored the first bucket, then rookie Domas Sabonis went to work. On the left hand side of the floor, Sabonis backed down Nuggets forward Darrell Arthur, powered through him and either finished at the rim or got fouled and went to the free throw line to score all nine of his points in the first quarter. The bruising play set the tone for the night.

“(Sabonis) was being aggressive. Miss or make, when he’s aggressive our team is different,” Westbrook said. Tonight he did a good job of that in the post of using his size.”

“We work on post ups every day. Today he did an amazing job of lifting the guy up. We were telling him that they were switching, and whenever they switch, punish them,” fellow big man Enes Kanter added. “He’s learning and he’s having fun. He’s not going to give up. He’s going to go hard every day.”

Enes delivers to Alex for the launch! Thunder leads Nuggets 88-80 as Q4 begins.

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The post play continued into the third quarter, when the Thunder broke the game open with a 15-2 run behind nine straight points from Adams. The sequence was highlighted by back-to-back stops by the Thunder (Denver shot just 31.1 percent in the second half) that Westbrook turned into pitch-ahead early post ups for Adams in transition. The Big Kiwi scored twice on Wilson Chandler and finished with 16 points as he helped give the Thunder a comfortable margin in the second half.

“What we’ve talked about is if our bigs are up ahead of the ball to get in front of the rim for a deep post up,” Head Coach Billy Donovan explained. “Steven has done a terrific job of identifying opportunities to run, seal and post.”

“It’s important to keep Steven involved in the game,” Westbrook said. “He’s a big part of our offense and he makes it easy for me.”

The game was still barely in the balance, but Westbrook ensured that it didn’t stay that way down the stretch. As a part of his 32-point, 17-rebound, 11-assist triple-double, his 17th on the year, Westbrook knocked down four straight three-pointers in the fourth quarter during a 15-5 Thunder burst. On the night Westbrook shot 10-for-20 from the field, including 7-for-12 from three, which follows up a performance of a career-best and Thunder record eight made threes on Thursday night in Houston.

“I’m just trying to stay on balance and concentrate on making the shots,” Westbrook said.

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Payne Returns to Action

The crowd rumbled as he approached the scorers table, but then a television timeout forced him back to the bench. Cameron Payne would have to wait just a little bit longer. Finally, Payne got his chance to play his first NBA game this season after recovering from a broken bone in his foot. After playing two games for the Oklahoma City Blue in the D-League, Payne hit the ground running for the Thunder and played with his familiar pace, tempo and swagger.

“I got comfortable real quick and found my rhythm,” Payne smiled. “It’s because of the fans. They made me feel comfortable. My teammates cheered me on and gave me a lot of confidence before the game and during the game.”

Payne scored eight points on 3-for-4 shooting after knocking down his first shot attempt, a three-pointer from the top of the key. He also added two rebounds and an assist in 13 minutes as the Thunder’s backup point guard. Along with Semaj Christon, Payne brings another dynamic element to this Thunder squad and yet another talented tool at Donovan’s disposal.

‪Another look at Cam & Russ working their pregame magic. Comment on FB with Russell Westbrook #NBAVote‬ if you like!

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“It was good for our team and our second unit and get him back flowing,” Westbrook said. “Semaj is doing a great job as well. It’s definitely good to have Cam back and get his rhythm back.”

Game Highlights

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By the Numbers

13 - Minutes for Cameron Payne on the night in his season debut as he scored eight points on 3-for-4 shooting

17 – Triple-doubles on the season now for Russell Westbrook, who scored 32 points to go with 17 rebounds and 11 assists

48.3 – Shooting percentage for the Thunder as five players scored in double figures and three more added at least seven points

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The Last Word

“In the second half our guys really played a terrific defensive game. The effort, the contesting of jump shots, the rotations and our energy was really good in terms of making some extra effort plays.” – Head Coach Billy Donovan

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