Thunder vs. Denver Nuggets Game Recap – April 12, 2017

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

For once, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter were well-behaved. They stood silently, directly behind Russell Westbrook, with all 18,203 faithful in Chesapeake Energy Arena watching intently. But when they heard the three magic letters, they broke character, and delivered massive fist pumps. Heck, the “Big O”, Oscar Robertson had just done the same thing when he roared that Russell Westbrook was his MVP, so the ‘Stache Bros had permission to let loose too.

Different players from different times with the same remarkable feat, celebrate #hist0ry together. #MVP

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“It just caught us off guard. We were absolutely surprised,” Adams said. “It was awesome though. It was real cool.”

In an emotional, historic celebration just prior to tip-off Robertson, the NBA legend who forged a path for players who came after him, helped Westbrook celebrate the Thunder point guard’s outstanding season. Over the course of the year, Westbrook surpassed Robertson’s 55-year old record of 41 triple-doubles in a season by racking up 42, while winning the NBA’s scoring title and becoming the first player to compile a triple-double average in 55 years as well. For the season, Westbrook finished with 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game.

“It’s something I could never dream about, to have the “Big O” here in Oklahoma City,” Westbrook said. It’s never too soon to be blessed for things that you’ve done. I think of it differently. It’s all blessings coming from the man above to put me in a situation where I can be here with Oscar Robertson, be here in Oklahoma City and do different things on the basketball floor. I enjoy every moment of it and I embrace each moment.”

Amid all of the euphoria, there was an actual game to play against the Denver Nuggets, and a chance to get better both individually and as a unit in the 82nd and final game of the 2016-17 regular season. The Thunder fell 111-105 to finish out the season 47-35, but it was still an excellent chance for some of the younger players to gain valuable experience and for the Thunder’s rotation players to maintain their rhythm heading into the postseason.

In the first half, when Westbrook played all 18 of his minutes and Steven Adams played all 13 of his, the Thunder rolled out to a 15-point lead, behind a 7-for-14 three-point shooting performance while out-rebounding the Nuggets by 13.

In the second half, the Nuggets made their charge, eventually taking the lead late in the third quarter behind a 17-3 run. The Thunder led just once more after that on an Enes Kanter hook shot, but once the fourth quarter rolled around the Nuggets were able to slow the Thunder’s offense, which scored just 41 points in the second half.

There was plenty of intrigue, even in the loss, because of the minutes distribution which allowed plenty of Thunder players to get in on the action. Westbrook chipped in five points, five rebounds and eight assists in his first half minutes, while Taj Gibson (13 points) and Victor Oladipo (10 points) each reached double-digits.

Off the bench, Alex Abrines made history of his own by knocking down three three-pointers, giving him 94 total for the season which broke the Thunder record for most three-pointers in a season by a rookie. Jerami Grant added 13 points while Enes Kanter added 12, but the loudest ovations came for Nick Collison. The long-time veteran displayed his unique set of skills in his 8:38 of play. He scored six points, added two rebounds and dished an assist, on what other type of pass than his patented backdoor bounce pass to Kyle Singler.

“It was great to give some guys some different opportunities in different situations,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said. “It was a different kind of game because of the rotations and minutes, but overall I think there’s some things we can look at and try to improve upon.

There was one more highlight moment in the game, which came during the celebratory first half. With 2:40 to go in the second quarter, 25-year-old Tiandre Nichols from Tulsa stepped up to launch the ball in the MidFirst Bank Half-Court Shot Contest. The ball soared in the air, banked off the backboard, bounded off the front rim, careened back to the glass and dropped into the hoop, earning him $25,000. Tonight’s contest was Nichols’ first game of the season, and he brought his girlfriend to her first game ever as well. After the shot dropped, the 11th one total in team history and 2nd this season, Nichols said hitting the shot was his, "Westbrook moment”.

Highlights: Thunder vs. Nuggets

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By the Numbers

47-35 – The Thunder’s record on the season, good for a .573 winning percentage

61 – Bench points for the Thunder, as all eight reserve players scored

94 – Three-pointers this season for Alex Abrines, the most for a rookie in Thunder history

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The Last Word

“It’s an unbelievable feeling. The people here since Day 1 have done an amazing job of being with me through thick and thin. Now, the group of guys we have, heading into the playoffs, we have to make sure we come ready to play.” – point guard Russell Westbrook

Bud Light Photo of the Night. Russ & Oscar. #hist0ry

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