Game Recap: Thunder 113, Nuggets 101
In its first game following the All-Star break, the Thunder put on a dominating performance over the second ranked team in the West. Seven players in double figures, 19 forced turnovers and a monstrous double-double for Steven Adams the recipe for a definitive Thunder win.
The Thunder threw the first punch. Despite 11 first quarter points from Nuggets’ center Nikola Jokic, the Thunder stuck to its game plan to win the free throw line battle and play downhill. Early on, the Thunder’s points came strictly from the paint before Dennis Schröder and Luguentz Dort knocked down a pair of triples. Defensively, the Thunder’s active hands forced five turnovers and led to a comfortable 10-point lead at the end of the first quarter.
The free throw battle swayed in Denver’s direction in the second quarter. After only allowing one free throw in the first quarter, Denver made 13 in the second frame alone, six of which came from Jokic. The Thunder stayed afloat with its defense while the Nuggets clawed back into the game. Behind six steals, OKC forced eight Denver turnovers in the second quarter. By halftime, the score was tied at 48.
“That second quarter I think we got pretty stagnant on offense, we got slow,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “I think we were laboring to score we just never really got into a flow, we got our rhythm broken.”
After a strong nine-point performance in the second quarter, Chris Paul erupted in the third going for 11 points. The Thunder looked to play with more pace out of the gates after a sluggish second quarter performance. However, Thunder turnovers were a major culprit in allowing Denver a pathway to a comeback and a 10-0 run. By the end of the third, OKC only held a one-point advantage.
The Thunder pulled away in the fourth quarter. What began with a strong start from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, moved to a couple of much needed buckets from Chris Paul followed by timely defensive plays from Nerlens Noel and Steven Adams. Denver struggled to answer. Empty possessions of missed shots and turnovers left the Thunder in a comfortable position to remain ahead.
For the fifth time this season, seven Thunder players scored in double figures which marks a new Thunder record. Major contributions from Luguentz Dort and Steven Adams gave the Thunder an extra lift offensively to withstand the 32-point performance from Jokic.
Steven Adams had one of his most well-rounded performances of the season. With 19 points, 17 rebounds (seven offensive) and a season-high tying four steals, Adams’ performance played a pivotal role in the Thunder’s success.
“I thought Steven played a phenomenal game and he was good all the way around. He was good on offense, he was good defensively, he was good rebounding, and he stayed down,” said Donovan. “
Denver pulled the game to within five points with just over five minutes left to play. Jokic slammed home an easy dunk to bring the game to 90-95 with the pendulum of momentum swinging slightly in the Nuggets direction.
On the very following possession, Chris Paul sank an in-rhythm 3-pointer off of a high ball screen to get the crowd back on its feet while stretching the lead to seven. Keeping the energy high, Nerlens Noel picked up one of the Thunder’s 12 steals and sent it down the floor. The ensuing possession resulted in an emphatic two-hand dunk for Luguentz Dort which dictated the direction of the game’s momentum for the remainder of the clock.
“Early in the season, he might’ve just caught it and passed it, but he attacked and got a bucket, and people don’t understand how important that is that he’s not just a defender,” said Paul.
Play of the Game
In the very next play for the Thunder following Dort’s slam. Danilo Gallinari added to the swing in momentum. After getting the ball beyond the perimeter on a kick out, Gallinari shot faked a closeout and attacked to the middle of the lane. However, he was met with immediate help side defense. This proved to be no problem for Gallinari who scooped the ball underhanded to the rim while taking the contact. The ball dropped through the rim as the referee whistled for a foul which sent the fans at Chesapeake Energy Arena into a frenzy.
Stat of the Night19
The Thunder defense forced 19 turnovers for the Nuggets which resulted in 25 points for OKC. With a team like Denver that moves the ball at such a high rate on offense, opportunities for turnovers and steals present themselves more frequently. For the Thunder, it was all about being at the right place at the right time.
“I think that if you can be in the right position you have a chance,” said Donovan. “We had a couple guys in the right positions, and we had a couple deflections. Nerlens [Noel] ran through a pass, Steven [Adams] had one. We were in the right spots. They were trying to cut backdoor and we had really good help there.”
Quotes of the Night
“We’re here to win every game. It is a playoff push for us, for a lot of teams, and the intensity has to be like that every night in and night out.” – Danilo Gallinari
“It was nice. The guys have been hearing me harp on how important these games are coming out of the break because some teams try to warm up into it. We don’t have that benefit; we’ve got to come out. There’s only 27 games left. It’s the home stretch.” – Chris Paul
The Thunder will look to carry this momentum into its second straight home game. After a day of practice, the Thunder will return to Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday to face San Antonio.