Thunder at Denver Nuggets Game Recap – Oct. 10 2017

DENVER – The Denver Nuggets cut the Thunder’s lead to just one with 6:37 to go in the fourth quarter when Head Coach Billy Donovan called a timeout. When his team emerged from the huddle, it ripped off six straight possessions of three-points apiece, including five three-pointers. It was a devastating display of the Thunder’s offensive firepower, and just how explosive this team can be when it gets the chemistry flowing.

It was a 96-86 victory for the Thunder in the final preseason game before Oct. 19 and the regular season opener against the New York Knicks at Chesapeake Energy Arena. There’s still over a week in between, so tonight’s win wasn’t exactly a dress rehearsal, but it was a good chance for the Thunder to get its starters and rotation players extended minutes and to spend more time together on the floor.

It was evident that the Thunder be an explosive offensive team, but that’s no surprise given the prodigious talent on the roster. What impressed Donovan the most was his team’s commitment to the defensive end of the floor. Once again this preseason, the Thunder was stifling, particularly in preventing its opponent from getting to the rim. For the night Donovan’s bunch forced Denver into 34.1 percent shooting and just 30 points in the paint.

“The first thing is trying to find ways to protect the deep paint. Our team collectively did a really good job of that. We really scrambled and made some efforts.” Donovan explained. “We defensively flew around and tried to do things to protect the paint and build out from there.”

“We’re playing together man,” point guard Russell Westbrook said. “That’s the big thing for us, defending at a high level. That’s something we have to do every night to win games.”

Offensively, it was Russell Westbrook who got the blood pumping as the heart of the Thunder offense early on. In the first quarter alone, Westbrook ripped off 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting while draining two three-pointers. He attacked the paint, posted up and pushed tempo on his way to 20 points on 9-for-13 shooting and seven assists in 26 minutes.

“Just taking what the defensive gives you honestly. Just being aggressive, per usual,” Westbrook said, shrugging off his early scoring outburst.

The Thunder made an 11-0 run to start the second half behind a Westbrook bucket, a Steven Adams free throw, a pair of Carmelo Anthony three-pointers and a transition layup for Andre Roberson, but the Nuggets pulled back to within one on two separate occasions in the fourth quarter, when Paul George remained as the only Thunder starter left on the floor.

George battled all night long despite struggling with his shot for much of the game. He stayed engaged and didn’t let errant shots or turnovers impact his overall play. He filled the stat sheet with 11 rebounds, five steals and four assists in 34 minutes.

“The thing I admire about him and his game, even watching him the last couple years, is that he plays both ends,” Donovan opined. “When he’s guarding really good offensive players it keeps him engaged and he doesn’t get impacted by making or missing shots because he takes so much pride in the defensive end of the floor.”

When the Thunder needed him most, however, he delivered on offense. In the decisive 18-4 run to end the game, George hit three three-pointers, including the first one out of the timeout on a nice set piece drawn up by Donovan that shook George free in the right corner. By the time he knocked down his final two triples in the late stages of the six-possession barrage, George tallied 19 points for the night. Most importantly, he showed his chops as a leader to help the Thunder evade a Nuggets comeback.

“He’s super vocal,” forward Josh Huestis added. “He just wants to teach us because he knows we’re a team here and we’re going to need one through 15 to get to where we want to get to.”

Huestis himself played a major role in the final Thunder charge. Once again was dynamic. He didn’t play perfectly – he gave the ball up with some turnovers and missed a rushed layup in the lane, but Huestis knocked down four three-pointers, all from above the break.

“That’s a spot I’ve worked on a lot, especially at the four,” Huestis explained. “That’s where a lot of shots come from, setting screens and being able to pop into that spot. I’ve worked on that quite a bit. I’m comfortable there.”

While serving as a power forward for the Thunder’s second unit, Huestis racked up 15 points to go with nine rebounds, capping off a wonderful exhibition slate for the fourth-year forward.

The Thunder will not practice on Wednesday as the players and coaches get a well-deserved day off prior to the week of work that leads up to opening night. The team will get back after it on Thursday at the INTEGRIS Thunder Development Center, in hopes of getting completely healthy, making final roster decisions and gelling on both sides of the ball as the countdown to the regular season reaches a conclusion.

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By the Numbers

5 – Blocked shots for Steven Adams on the night in addition to eight points and seven rebounds

16 – Points for Carmelo Anthony on the night, in addition to nine rebounds

39.5 – Shooting percentage from three-point range for the Thunder on the night, as it knocked down 15 shots from behind the arc- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The Last Word

“Defense. That’s the catalyst to everything. Defense is where it starts and ends.” – point guard Russell Westbrook