Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
(Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder)

The Reporters' Notebook: OKC vs. DEN

By Nick Gallo and Paris Lawson | okcthunder.com

Highlights: OKC vs. DEN

The Big Picture

The Thunder wrapped up its brief two-game homestand with a matchup against the Denver Nuggets. It was the second meeting of the regular season between these two teams and the third including preseason. 

After falling behind 13-0 and eventually trailing by 19 in the first half, the Thunder recalibrated and got things back to an equilibrium. After clawing back in the second quarter, the Thunder added onto its league-best third quarter point differential by out-scoring Denver by 16 to take a 2-point lead at 95-93. The Nuggets responded in the fourth with a 13-2 run and got some hot shooting by Jamal Murray, erasing the Thunder’s valiant comeback and resulting in a 120-110 loss for OKC. 

Observations
1st Quarter

Nick: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander helped settle the Thunder and kept the scoreboard moving amid a scoring barrage by the Nuggets in the first quarter. To counteract the Nuggets 42-point outburst in the opening 12 minutes, which included 10 makes from behind the arc, Gilgeous-Alexander got the Thunder’s running game going. By continually knifing through the teeth of the defense, Gilgeous-Alexander drew fouls and scored efficiently in the paint and midrange to the tune of 17 points on 5-for-6 shooting from the field to go with a perfect 7-of-7 mark from the free throw line. 

Paris: With under a minute left in the first quarter, Jamal Murray surveyed his options on the floor. Guarded by second-year guard Tre Mann, Murray attacked the left side of the floor but was met at the top of his shot by Mann who stood up Murray’s layup attempt.  The disciplined play was critical for the Thunder who had worked to scrap back from down as many as 17 points in the opening frame.

2nd Quarter

Paris: The Thunder’s hustle has been on full display in this one. Midway through the second quarter, Denver fumbled the ball at the top of the key and the first person on the floor to scoop up the loose change was 7-footer Aleksej Pokuševski. Suddenly, all five Thunder players were involved in the scramble. The result? An emphatic slam by Lu Dort in transition that send the Paycom Center crowd into an uproar. Building momentum against this Denver team started on the defensive end and in the margins of the game for the Thunder and winning each 50/50 ball in the first half was key to that formula. 

Nick: With the buzz in the arena building and a loose ball bouncing towards the sideline, Aleksej Pokuševski dove on the floor, beating Michael Porter Jr. to the ball. Porter, who started closer to the ball, got his hands on it but Pokuševski kept the scrap alive and the ball ended up in Jeremiah Robinson-Earl’s hands at the center circle. Dort streaked into the front court and his big man found him for an easy dunk. Over the ensuing few possessions, the Thunder compiled an 11-0 run and Pokuševski was a central part of it with some physical play and a defensive board, a coast to coast drive and a no-look dish to Jalen (JDub) Williams for a reverse layup. 

3rd Quarter

Paris:  Kenrich Williams attacked baseline and whipped the ball across his face to a cutting Ousmane Dieng who finished the wide-open layup. The Thunder’s movement without the ball has played a massive role in the Thunder’s 62 points in the paint entering into the fourth quarter. With versatile players able to attack downhill and draw the attention of Denver’s rim protectors, the Thunder has been able to create open lanes at the basket for cutters to slice and finish without contest. 

Nick: On back to back possessions, Dort absolutely hounded Jamal Murray out top. The first physical possession lead to a stop and then Dort runs the floor to receive a clever drop off pass from Giddey for a layup. Next possession, Dort draws an offensive foul, then finishes a layup plus the foul. Great spurt from Lu.

4th Quarter

Nick: The Thunder eclipsed 70 points in the paint for the 2nd time in three games, this time with 72 points on 36-of-55 shooting (65.5%). Gilgeous-Alexander scored 22 of his 37 points in the paint, with 11 of the remainder coming from the free throw line on fouls primarily drawn in the lane. Nine other Thunder players scored in the paint tonight, as OKC focused on what it’s done all season more than any other team in the league - drive to the rim. The Nuggets’ three-point shooting ended up outdoing the Thunder’s interior attacks, and in the fourth quarter Daigneault said his squad settled for too many jump shots, but it was another loud effort inside for the Thunder to build upon. 

Quotes of the Night

Mark Daigneault on the comeback effort…

“Credit our guys, I thought out of half time – really good group there. And then we sustained it throughout the quarter, took a lead going into the fourth, which is all you can ask for when you're down by 14 at halftime. Great job positioning ourselves and just couldn't sustain it.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on the third quarter effort…

We just stuck with the game plan coming out of halftime. Tightened up a couple screws. Then towards the fourth, I think we loosened up a little bit defensively on rotations and stuff like that. When a team is as good as they are, they make you pay. They did so down the stretch.”

What's Next

The Thunder’s next two contests will take place on the road. OKC travels to Milwaukee to play the Bucks on Saturday before heading to Detroit to face the Pistons on Monday.

The Walkout: OKC vs. DEN

Thursday's Photos
By Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder