Regular Season Recap - Thunder vs. Nuggets
5 Steals for Kevin Durant to go along with his 20 points and four assists
7 Assists for Reggie Jackson, who also had eight points and six rebounds
8-for-12 Shooting numbers for Kevin Martin, who finished with 20 points
12 Players who scored for the Thunder, which had 49 bench points
28 Points the Thunder scored off of 21 Nuggets turnovers
32 Points for Russell Westbrook on 12-for-20 shooting, including 16 points in the first quarter
51.8 Shooting percentage for the Thunder on the night, including 47.4 percent from three
67 First half points for the Thunder, one shy of a season-high for most points in a half
GAME IN REVIEW
By Nick Gallo, Thunder Basketball Writer
If it wasn’t clear the Thunder loves playing at Chesapeake Energy Arena, it was obvious from the opening tip on Wednesday night.
The Thunder jumped out to an 11-2 lead over the Denver Nuggets and never looked back, playing with intensity, energy and precision on both ends of the floor en route to a 117-97 victory in its only home game in a stretch of 21 days. Using an 8-0 run to close the first quarter, the Thunder took a 34-18 lead into the second quarter and never looked back. An inspired defensive effort from the start helped the Thunder rack up 11 steals and 11 blocked shots, and those active hands helped Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club get out and score easy points.
“I thought the ball pressure was good and there was good activity on the ball,” Brooks said. “We had a lot of hands around the basketball and we were using our length. They didn’t see a lot of openings early on. I think when you do that, it gives the appearance that it’s not going to be an easy night to score on us.”
Led at the top by ball-hound Russell Westbrook and anchored in the post by physical stalwart Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder’s in-tact starting lineup rounded out by Kevin Durant, Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka held the Nuggets to 36.8 percent shooting in the first quarter and a 2-for-15 night overall from the three-point stripe. The help-side defense was timely, the pick-and-roll coverages were on point and the Thunder continually got stops that led to 28 points off 21 Denver turnovers.
“I thought we just came out with the right energy,” Perkins said. “I thought everybody was covering for each other starting on the defensive end. The way Russ got it going tonight offensively, we just set up in our defense. We had good ball pressure. Everything was clicking on all cylinders, we did what we were supposed to do.”
Once the Thunder snagged those defensive rebounds and pushed ahead into the front court, it became a display of athleticism and accuracy all over the court. The Thunder shot 51.8 percent from the field, including 47.4 percent from three on the night, spearheaded by Westbrook’s efficient 32 points in 28 minutes on 12-for-20 shooting.
Westbrook had his mid-range jumper working, which can so effectively pierce a defense from the elbow. When the Thunder point guard makes that shot with regularity, it forces opposing defenses to make difficult decisions, and puts pressure on the defense to choose whether to defend the pull-up or the drive. Particularly in the first quarter when he had 16 points, Westbrook found ways to attack the Nuggets defense and leave his teammates quite impressed.
“What can you do?” Durant said. “If you pressure him he can go to the rim. It’s a nightmare when he’s making that jump shot. Hopefully he continues to keep making them… These last few games he’s been really good at scoring the basketball and taking the pressure off of everybody else.”
The game turned late in the first quarter and early in the second period when the Thunder’s second unit made a charge and eventually helped push the Thunder lead all the way to 28. Behind Kevin Martin’s 20 points, DeAndre Liggins’ tenacity on defense and rim protection from Hasheem Thabeet, the Thunder’s bench racked up 49 points. The head of the unit tonight was point guard Reggie Jackson, who assembled an eight-point, seven-assist, six-rebound performance that set things in order for his second unit mates.
“I think we played fairly well, we’re just getting better,” Jackson said. “Defensively, I think that’s where it started. Getting stops and then getting a few easy baskets in transition… I was just trying to make plays for others and stay aggressive on the offensive end.”
Once the clock turned to the fourth quarter the Thunder led by 25 points, giving Brooks the opportunity to sit his starters for the final 12 minutes. All 12 players who saw action for the Thunder scored, and it was a great chance for rookies like Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb to get extended minutes, in addition to youngsters like Liggins, Jackson and Thabeet to get some playing time with heightened responsibility. Simply getting those valuable minutes under their belt in a real NBA game is an important aspect of each player’s improvement and development process.
“I thought Perry’s minutes were good,” Brooks said. “Those guys are young and still developing and they have to develop with the D-League and they have to develop in our practices, before practice and during games. It’s nice for them to get some minutes and give them some rewards. They’ve earned it.”
The Thunder burst out to an early 11-2 lead, but the game truly turned in the final minute and a half of the first quarter. Leading by eight at 26-18, the Thunder scored the final eight points of the quarter to take a 34-18 lead into the second quarter. First Kevin Martin made a driving layup, then Reggie Jackson found Martin on a pitch-ahead pass on a run out for a layup. After that Jackson hit Martin on the wing for a three-pointer and Hasheem Thabeet knocked in a free throw. All the while, the Thunder forced four straight missed shots.
Plays the box score won't show, first half:
Nice anticipation by Durant to jump in and make a steal, then patience by Sefolosha in the fast break to find Durant for three. Perfect defensive rotations with hands up in the passing lanes to break up a pick-and-roll. Perkins bodies up his man and taps a ball out to Westbrook for an offensive rebound. Liggins hustles back in transition defense to swat away a shot attempt at the buzzer. Liggins steps in and takes a charge on a hard drive into the paint. A full 24 seconds of hungry Thunder defense forces Denver into a shotclock violation.
Plays the box score won't show, second half and overtime:
Westbrook gets blocked going up but catches the ball and passes it to Sefolosha in mid-air for a three-pointer. Thabeet skies high to alter a shot and force a miss that leads to a Jackson run out and two foul shots. Strong rebound underneath by Thabeet who fought off multiple defenders. Liggins dives all over the floor to snag the ball on a defensive rotation, which leads to an easy Martin layup. Jones hustles back in transition defense to stop a fast break.
“I thought we came out with great energy from the start on both ends of the floor. We set the tone early with our defense and it allowed us to score 30 points in that first quarter. It was good basketball. We were making shots and we were playing good defense and that really enables us to play better offense.” – Head Coach Scott Brooks