Paul Millsap's Big Game Leads Nuggets to Crucial Victory
OKLAHOMA CITY – Asked to illustrate just how nice it felt to get out of Chesapeake Energy Arena with a big-time win, Jamal Murray leaned back into his locker as if he was on a hammock.
“It feels like this,” he said, smiling.
The Nuggets needed the 126-125 overtime win they earned over Oklahoma City on Friday night. After two weeks on the road, and searching for the formula to win that had eluded them in the two previous road games, they played – and coached – as if their season was on the line.
That meant offense for defense substitutions in the first half. That meant Paul Millsap playing the absolute best game of his young Nuggets career. That meant players playing long stretches of minutes because the team needed the win to stay in the playoff race. And they got it.
“We still have a chance. We still believe,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “This was a great way to end a very long road trip.”
The Nuggets had to go to overtime to get it. To get there, they had to find a way to execute in the last two minutes of regulation, down six points. A 10-4 run to end the fourth quarter got the Nuggets to overtime. Once in overtime, they defended their way to a victory, holding the Thunder to 3-of-10 from the field in the extra frame.
And no defensive play was bigger than Mason Plumlee’s block on what would have been the go-ahead layup by Jerian Grant with 6.7 seconds left in the extra frame.
“I thought Mason Plumlee’s defensive play saved the game for us,” Malone said.
Plumlee described the block.
“I felt that I had a chance to contest it without fouling,” Plumlee said. “We get the block, Paul gets the rebound, and it’s all good.”
Meanwhile, Millsap poured in a season-high 36 points on an efficient 13-of-18 shooting from the field, and he made shots from all over. He started off hot, going basket-for-basket with Oklahoma City’s Carmelo Anthony, who had also gotten off to a sizzling start of his own.
But Millsap stayed consistent all-night long. He made two 3-pointers. He made 8-of-11 free throws. There wasn’t a shot he couldn’t hit or a defender he couldn’t score on. Millsap had 21 points in the second half and overtime, 11 in the fourth quarter and scored nine of the Nuggets’ final 15 points of regulation.
“It felt good,” Millsap said. “These past few days the wrist has been feeling pretty good. So, I’ve been able to drive left. It allowed to get back into my, play my game, pretty much. That’s some of it. The rest of it was coach was calling plays and teammates were giving me the ball in the right spots.”
Alex Abrines hit a meaningless 3-pointer for the Thunder as time was running out, which provided the one-point margin of victory. But the win had already been secured. The Nuggets took the season series from the Thunder with victories in three of the four games. It’s the first time the Nuggets have done that since the 2012-13 season. They’ve won four the last five games against the Thunder overall since losing the previous nine straight.
At 41-35, the Nuggets also clinched at least a .500 record for the first time since the 2012-13 season. They have improved their win total in each of Malone’s three seasons as coach.
And the Nuggets kept pace with the other teams they are chasing in the Western Conference playoff race. Utah and Minnesota both won, but the L.A. Clippers lost to Portland, which moved the Nuggets into a tie with them, though the Clippers own the tiebreaker. Still, the Nuggets play at the Clippers on April 7 in game that could be pivotal.
“We’re believing for sure,” Plumlee said. “We’re going home believing. We love ourselves at home, and we’re going to run off some games back there.”
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.