Time to Shine: Thunder Back Home in Need of a Win – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC vs. DEN

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

Broadcast Information

  • Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. CT
  • Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
  • Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

With three days off, the Thunder had the juice. The energy was there, as was the effort and focus. Defensively, Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club laid it all on the line yet it wasn’t enough to come away with a victory over the San Antonio Spurs.

Less than 24 hours later, this same squad will lace them up again, this time against the Denver Nuggets – a club that is on the outside looking in at the playoff picture at present, but is desperately hoping to get into the Western Conference’s final 8. In order to bounce back from two-straight losses against playoff foes, the Thunder needs to come up with a win tonight at Chesapeake Energy Arena against a team that is fighting to take Oklahoma City’s spot.

“Hard turnaround here. A hard-fought game, a physical game. Guys absorbed a lot of minutes,” Donovan said. “We’ll have a lot on our plate to handle and a lot to get prepared for.”

While the players and coaches certainly understand the importance of these games coming down the stretch, they’ll put less focus into that aspect than fans likely will. Every man in the Thunder locker room still has a job to do, and there’s both mental and physical preparation required to come up with a win.

Denver is coming to town with the longest active streak of allowing 100 points, at 26 games, but also has the skill level to put up points in a hurry on the other end. With Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap at the center and power forward spots, the Nuggets have two of the NBA’s very best passing big men, with Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Trey Lyles and Wilson Chandler surrounding them on the perimeter as scoring threats. To curtail the firepower, the Thunder will have to do a great job of knowing personnel and playing within the team’s defensive scheme.

“It’s just another game,” center Steven Adams demurred. “We have back-to-backs another time but obviously it’s a dangerous team. We’ll just try and learn from this one first and then worry about Denver when it comes tomorrow.”

One positive sign heading into tonight’s contest for the Thunder is that it seems the team’s best perimeter scorer may be finding his groove once again. While Paul George hasn’t shot above 50 percent in a game since the All-Star Break, he did go 9-for-20, including 3-of-6 from three-point range, on Thursday against the Spurs on his way to 26 points. He scored while attacking the basket, as he had been, but also on some slick off the dribble jumpers and a few catch-and-shoot threes.

“I felt good, getting the looks I got. I had a couple of in and outs,” George noted. “I feel the timing and the rhythm is starting to come back.”

If George gets fully back on track, as he typically does in the final weeks of the season despite a tough post-All-Star stretch, the Thunder will most likely have a chance to close this one out in the fourth quarter. It’ll also help if Carmelo Anthony has a repeat performance of his 3-for-3 mark from behind the arc that he notched in San Antonio. Although Donovan’s group couldn’t quite get the job done down the stretch against the Spurs, which has traditionally been when Russell Westbrook shines.

The Thunder All-Star point guard and reigning MVP has proven himself as a clutch-time scorer, distributor and playmaker. The odds are against teams who are behind in the closing minutes, so Westbrook won’t always come through in dramatic fashion, but his head coach is more impressed with his confidence, determination and the guts it takes to be in the spotlight down the stretch, rather than the end result of a shot going down.

“It’s about the competitiveness and the willingness to want to go out and try to go win a game and try to make plays to win a game,” Donovan opined. “I’ve always admired the fact that he doesn’t shy away from that. That kind of makes him who he is as a player.”

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