Denver Nuggets 101, Oklahoma City Thunder 113: Three takeaways
The Nuggets got several key players back into their lineup, but it wasn’t enough against a determined Thunder team, falling 113-101 in Oklahoma City.
Denver had a full contingent with Will Barton III, Mason Plumlee and Michael Porter Jr. returning to action after an extended absence due to injury, but the rust from a nine-day All-Star break appeared to be a factor for the Nuggets throughout Friday’s contest.
"It's a convenient excuse, coming off All-Star break, working guys back in. But if I've missed a month or a week, [you can still] defend, rebound and take care of the ball," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone told reporters after the game. "I think there was definitely was a little bit of rust."
Nikola Jokić led the Nuggets with 32 points, seven rebounds and five assists while Chris Paul helped the Thunder snap a seven-game losing streak to Denver, powering the home team with 29 points and four boards.
The Nuggets would hit just three of their opening nine shots and committed four turnovers in the first seven minutes of the game. Aside from a strong first quarter from Jokić, who had 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting, Denver struggled to find any rhythm offensively. The team shot just 36.4 percent in the first 12 minutes and only connected on two assists. The Thunder would take a 10-point lead after the first quarter, thanks to their second unit with Dennis Schroder and Nerlens Noel combining for 13.
Denver would pick up some momentum in the second quarter though. The Nuggets would use free throws to go on an 8-0 run. Jamal Murray would put his team back in front 37-36 with a three-pointer at the 5:25 mark. When Barton III pushed the score to 42-38, it appeared as if the team would continue to pad its lead. Chris Paul, however, would ensure that both sides went into the break tied at 48 as he hit a bucket at 2.7-second mark.
That moment appeared to spur on Paul, who would torch the Nuggets in the second half. Paul sparked an 11-1 run by Oklahoma City, with the guard scoring 11 in the quarter. Denver would respond with a 10-0 run of its own, thanks to Jokić. The center hit a three, forced a steal and assisted on Gary Harris’ three to bring his team within one. Things would unravel for the Nuggets in the final 12 minutes though.
Steven Adams scored 10 points in the fourth quarter and Paul would chip in another nine, helping the Thunder pad their lead to 12.
The outcome sees Denver lose their first division game of the season. The group will look to get back to winning ways when they host the Timberwolves on Sunday, featuring two former Nuggets in Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez.
"This is our first division loss and my hope is that we'll come out with a much greater sense of urgency against Minnesota on Sunday afternoon, from [players] 1-15," Malone said.
Here are the takeaways:
Nikola Jokić continues OKC dominance
The Nuggets couldn’t extend their win streak against Thunder to eight games, but they can’t fault Jokić. During the win streak, which started on Feb. 1, 2018, Jokić averaged 25.6 points against the Nuggets’ Northwest Division rivals. The Serbian continued his hot hand against the Thunder.
When the Nuggets struggled early on, it was Jokić who kept them in the game, scoring five of the team’s seven opening field goals. The 25-year-old scored 19 of his 32 points in the first half, adding five boards and three assists in the first 24 minutes of the game.
Nuggets struggle to find balance
Jokić and Jamal Murray combined for 53 points, but the Nuggets’ inability to get the rest of the team going was the reason why they lost by 12 in Oklahoma City.
Aside from a solid performance from Barton III, who scored 16 points on 50 percent shooting and added nine rebounds and five assists, it was a quiet offensive night for many of Denver’s players. The team had four players who shot under 35 percent, including two starters. That’s not going to get it done against one of the Western Conference’s better teams in the Thunder.
"Other guys need to start stepping up," Malone said. "Step up and help your team in some shape or form."
One of the reasons why the team struggled to find a rhythm was due to carelessness on the ball. Denver conceded 19 turnovers, which the Oklahoma City Thunder scored 25 points from.
"We didn't take care of the ball, that was a huge issue and it happened all night long," Malone said. "Good teams don't beat themselves and that's what we did."
Again, some of likely was a result of several players working their way back into game action. With 26 games left on the season, it will be an area that will need monitoring.