Thunder’s Hot Start Cools Off as Denver Pulls Away in Final Moments
Game Recap: Thunder 95, Nuggets 97
The Thunder balanced a lead for 47 minutes on Friday, but a slow fourth quarter offensively opened the door for Denver to take a lead and sneak away with a victory.
For the third-straight game, the Thunder got out to its third-straight strong start offensively forcing Denver to burn an early timeout after building up a 10-2 lead. On the offensive end, it was Al Horford getting things going as he poured in 12 early points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field. He was getting it done from all over the floor: at the rim, in the midrange and behind the arc.
“I think our energy from the beginning, we came out playing really aggressive, moving the ball quite a bit and we set the tone very early,” said Horford.
Meanwhile, the Thunder’s defense smothered the Nuggets for the full first half. After forcing Denver to its lowest scoring first quarter of the season, the Thunder followed up the effort by holding the Nuggets to a season low 40-point half while also recording 13 points off of Denver’s eight turnovers. All the while, the Thunder didn’t allow Denver a single trip to the free throw line the entire 24 minutes. It was the first time the Thunder held an opponent to zero free throws since 2018.
a little defense— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 13, 2021
a little hami
a lotta thunder | pic.twitter.com/ZtkpyzTwKR
“It's tough especially trying to try to play aggressive and also trying not to put teams on the line,” said Kenrich Williams. “We did a good job of that in the first half.”
Behind Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray, Denver’s offense began to pick up in the second half. What was once a 13-point Thunder lead at halftime, began to dwindle as the Nuggets began making some of the shots they were missing the first half. Denver also looked to pick up the tempo offensively, getting out in transition and scoring on the break.
The Thunder still managed to stay ahead thanks to the offensive effort of Justin Jackson who came into the game and cashed in 20 points to lead all Thunder scorers. While Jackson fell in and out of the rotation throughout the season, Coach Daigneault encouraged him that his number would be called and when it is, he would need to be ready.
“I thought it was great,” said Horford. “He really has the ability to stretch the floor, to shoot the three and also put the ball down and put pressure on the rim and make decisions. At times he was shooting the floater or he was finding people out on the perimeter. He was a huge boost for us tonight.”
The Nuggets burst out on an 8-0 run to start the quarter and trimmed the Thunder’s lead down to just a single bucket, but it would hold onto this lead for the entire frame until the very final minute of the game.
The Thunder grasped onto its lead for 47 minutes of the game. The Thunder struggled to find its rhythm offensively as it went five minutes without a basket. This opened the door for Denver to take the lead with a minute left thanks to a mid-range jumper from Jokić. That play, followed by a 3-pointer from Will Barton gave the Nuggets its largest lead of the night at four points with just 42 seconds left.
Despite the effort to stretch the game by fouling, Denver knocked down four critical free throws to keep OKC out of arms reach for the last minute of the game.
“We obviously labored offensively in the fourth,” said Daigneault. “I thought our pace slowed down. I did think that they made more shots in the fourth quarter, whether it was our mistakes or them making some shots, which slowed us down a little bit too. I thought we were really running on their misses and turnovers. So it was a combination of things.”
Play of the Game
Denver tried to throw its punches at the Thunder throughout the game, but OKC withstood each blow and responded with an answer of its own. In the second frame, Nikole Jokić knocked down an incredible one-footed 3-pointer at the buzzer of the shot clock that injected a little bit of life into the Nuggets offense. The play could have been the push that send the momentum into Denver’s court, but Justin Jackson responded on the other end with a shot-clock-beating deep-3-pointer of his own that allowed OKC to retain the momentum.
Stat of the Night8
After allowing 32 second chance points in its first meeting with the Nuggets, the Thunder buckled down and limited Denver to just eight on Friday. Coming into Friday’s game, top of the list for the Thunder was taking care of the defensive glass and limiting Denver’s second chances at a basket. In the effort, OKC outrebounded the Nuggets 49-41 and posted 13 second chance points compared to Denver’s eight.
“I thought the stuff that we emphasized going into the game definitely showed up,” said Daigneault. “I thought they definitely felt us competitively tonight.”
“I think our guys understood that we needed to have more of a presence,” said Horford. “They're a great rebounding team and we came out tonight and our guards did a really good job crashing getting in there rebounding. “
Quotes of the Night
“There are going to be nights like that, but the main thing you want to focus on is the way you can compete. I think the past three games, although we didn't win I thought we came out and competed.”
“I'm really happy with how we competed. I thought our competitiveness never wavered. That's obviously priority number one and we checked that box again tonight.” –Coach Daigneault
After three games on the West Coast, the Thunder return to Chesapeake Energy Arena for a pair of matchups on its home floor. On Sunday, OKC will host the Eastern Conference leaders in the Milwaukee Bucks before welcoming the Trailblazers on Tuesday.