As the Thunder struggled to gain traction offensively early on, the Nuggets kept their foot on the gas through all four quarters to walk away with a commanding win. OKC received a boost from its second unit as well as Darius Bazley, but it wouldn’t be enough to overcome Denver’s potent offense.
The Nuggets set the tone from the very opening minutes in Saturday’s game as they opened up on a 13-0 run before the Thunder was able to get its offense started. The early start for Denver was fueled by a scorching 70-percent shooting from the field and 75 percent from the 3-point line which led to a 38-point quarter. On the other end, the Thunder faced a much different fate offensively as it made just two of its first 12 3-point attempts and shot 36 percent from the field.
“They were really sharp obviously to start the game and I give them a lot of credit tonight because they were really good in all facets and certainly outplayed us,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault.
In the midst of Denver’s surge, OKC’s second unit provided a small spark off the bench. Both of the Thunder’s first quarter threes came from reserves Ty Jerome and Mike Muscala. To close out the quarter, it was Jerome who found Isaiah Roby inside on an inbounds play for a layup and in the following possession, Muscala drained a deep 3-pointer with just seconds to go on the clock. The small surge in offense gave the Thunder a brief window of momentum to open up the second frame on a 15-4 run and cut Denver’s looming lead to striking distance on multiple occasions. By the end of the night, the Thunder’s second unit outscored Denver’s 52-33 and three of OKC’s reserves finished in double figures: Kenrich Williams (12), Jerome (15) and Muscala (15).
“We tried to chip away, not look at a score and tried to make some plays,” said Jerome.
“They just played hard and had a next possession mentality,” said Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. “Obviously the game wasn't going our way and it says a lot about them and their character to play how they played through that.”
In the starting group, it was Bazley who led all Thunder scorers with a season-high 22 points on Saturday, just one shy of his career mark. While the offense was hard to come by for the Thunder throughout the night, Darius maintained a level of consistency as he shot 8-of-16 from the field and knocked down three 3-pointers. Since going scoreless against San Antonio on Wednesday, Bazley has recorded back-to-back games scoring in double figures with 18 on Friday and 22 on Saturday.
“The best thing about how he's played has just been how he's handled the controllable things,” said Daigneault. “He's learning how to become a consistent player and what that looks like for him and what type of style of play is sustainable for him and I thought he brought that energy again tonight.”
The Thunder brought the game to within a manageable distance several times throughout the first half, but Denver opened up its offense yet again in the third quarter with the help of Nikola Jokić who scored nine points of his 19 points in the frame to pick up a triple-double by the end of the quarter. Denver’s 34-point quarter out of the half all but sealed the deal as the lead grew to 30 and the Thunder was unable to match the shot-making of the Nuggets going into the final stanza.
“They kept their foot on the gas tonight and we just didn't have the pop or the juice that we needed to make it a game,” said Daigneault. “It’s combination of us not being at our best and also then playing really well.”
Play of the Game
In the moments where the Thunder’s offense was humming, it started with a stop on the defensive end that generated transition opportunities on the other side of the floor. In a perfect example of that, Al Horford stopped a drive from Jamal Murray with a block which sent his teammates off to the races in a two-on-one break. Roby accelerated up the floor before dishing it off at the last moment to Bazley who threw down a dunk to close out the half.
Stat of the Night23
As Denver’s 3-point shooting clip barely dipped below 50 percent on Saturday, the Thunder finished the night shooting 11-of-47 from the 3-point line for 23 percent. This was the theme for the Thunder through all four frames as OKC only knocked down three triples in the first half.
“It was a drive and kick type of game,” said Bazley. “We got some good looks, but shots weren't falling tonight.”
Quotes of the Night
“Hats off to Denver, they played a great game tonight, they were the tougher team, more physical. We can be better, and we'll learn from that.”
-Mike Muscala “At the end of the day, it's one of 72 games there's going to be games like this. Obviously, they're never fun, but they do test your ability to handle adversity and that's a huge part of the competitive experience. You got to be able to handle success and you got to be able to handle adversity and tonight was an opportunity to try to do that.”
The Thunder completed its grueling stretch of five games in seven days on Saturday. The squad now has a relatively long three-day break before its next contest on Wednesday in Dallas. From there, the Thunder’s final game before the All-Star break will be the following night on Thursday against the Spurs.