Denver Nuggets 99, Oklahoma City Thunder 108: Three Takeaways
Results aren’t the focus of preseason basketball. That’s good news for the Denver Nuggets, who dropped a midweek contest 108-99 to the Oklahoma City Thunder to drop to 0-4 in the warmup games for the 2021-22 regular season. Cold shooting and late turnovers plagued Denver, who will wrap up the preseason Thursday against the same Oklahoma City squad.
The Nuggets used hot 3-point shooting to build an early 11-3 lead but struggled to capitalize on the quick start. Denver knocked down three 3-pointers within the first four minutes of Wednesday’s game but didn’t hit another one in the remainder of the first quarter. Oklahoma City capitalized on Denver’s offensive struggles and took a 29-23 lead into the second frame. The Nuggets shot just 40 percent in the quarter and coughed it up four times.
Things didn’t get any better for the Nuggets to begin the second quarter. Oklahoma City built a 13-point lead near the midway point of the quarter before Denver’s starters returned to the court, which helped the offense generate higher quality looks. Nikola Jokić led the way in the first half, dropping 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field. However, the Thunder took a 53-48 lead into the break.
Oklahoma City extended the lead to 70-57 midway through the third quarter as Luguentz Dort caught fire from beyond the arc and Denver’s offense continued to struggle. The hot 3-point shooting to open the game was a distant memory by the third quarter, as the Nuggets finished the third quarter having shot 7-of-35 from downtown. Oklahoma City eventually took an 84-72 lead into the fourth quarter.
Jeff Green did his best to single-handedly bring the Nuggets back into the game to open the fourth quarter, scoring eight points in the first three minutes of the frame. Nuggets head coach Michael Malone opted to bring several starters back into the game with just over eight minutes remaining, eventually running out the complete starting lineup with 5:30 remaining in the game.
Jokić continued to dominate during this late stretch, but Oklahoma City was able to withstand the Serbian’s best efforts and left with the victory. Jokić finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists.
Here are three takeaways from Wednesday’s loss.
Wednesday’s game was significant for Denver in that it was the first opportunity to see how the team’s planned opening night starters mix together. Of course, that was possible as a result of Will Barton’s return from an ankle injury suffered during training camp.
Barton looked good Wednesday and ultimately finished with 11 points, eight rebounds, and four assists in his 26 minutes of action. Denver can certainly use his ball-handling and floor spacing in the rotation, as Barton can serve as a primary ball-handler in certain lineups as the Nuggets begin the season without Jamal Murray.
Second unit struggles
A big factor in Denver’s early struggles Wednesday night was the play of the second unit. In the first game with a completely healthy rotation, Nuggets head coach Malone opted to go with Facundo Campazzo, Bones Hyland, PJ Dozier, and Jeff Green as the first four players off the bench.
However, that group alongside Michael Porter Jr. failed to generate easy looks and fouls plagued Hyland and Green in particular, allowing Oklahoma City to get to the free throw line early and often (the Thunder finished with 15 free throw attempts in the first half).
The group turned it around in the second half, with Green (15 points) and Hyland (12) ultimately finishing in double-digits. However, a key for the upcoming season will be how Denver’s offense performs when Jokić is off the floor, and early signs Wednesday weren’t ideal in that aspect of the game.
Ice cold 3-point shooting
One major focus for Denver’s offense this season is 3-point shooting. After finishing in the top 10 in 3-point percentage as a team last season, Denver hopes to duplicate that performance while increasing the number of attempts to closer to 40 per game (the Nuggets attempted 34.2 per game during the 2020-21 campaign).
Wednesday’s performance from beyond the arc was a sight for sore eyes, as Denver finished 11-of-44 (25 percent) in the loss. The number of attempts was right in line with Denver’s previous three preseason games, as the Nuggets averaged 44.7 attempts per game entering Wednesday’s contest.
However, the efficiency on those shots has continued to disappoint, as Denver had connected on just 34.3 percent prior to Wednesday’s cold shooting performance.
The Nuggets conclude their preseason tomorrow night in Tulsa against the Thunder.