Despite their lowly place in the standings — eleventh in the West — the Nuggets have been pretty decent of late, winning four of six and knocking off the likes of Indiana (!) and Golden State (!!) during that stretch. And there were plenty of moments when it looked like they’d do the same to Oklahoma City tonight. Billy Donovan, still experimenting with the rotation, at one point in the fourth was playing one starter — Serge Ibaka — and four reserves: Enes Kanter, Dion Waiters, Cameron Payne and Kyle Singler. Kanter was making shots, Payne was stealing balls, Singler was retrieving rebounds, and Waiters, well, he has nights like this. As the big guns drifted back in, Denver whittled an 11-point OKC lead down to five; as time wore down, the Thunder got foul-happy, or something, and the Nuggets crept to within four with a minute left. And it was Kanter who saved the day, swishing two free throws just inside the 30-second mark. Kenneth Faried came up with a layup and an and-one, but failed to make the one. Kevin Durant put up two more freebies, making it a six-point game; rookie guard Emmanuel Mudiay failed to inbound the ball, and that was the end, Oklahoma City 110, Denver 104, 3-0 in the season series with one to go.
Shooting percentage was almost identical for both teams (42 and a fraction), but OKC put up 14 more shots. Denver did a better job on the long ball, though, making seven of 20. (Thunder: 6-28. Payne missed six of those by himself, along with three shorter shots. Still, Cam had four steals and six assists, so it’s not like he was gasping for breath.) Not too shockingly, Danilo Gallinari had a team-high 27 for the Nuggets on 10-21. Contrast: Russell Westbrook, 27 points on 10-22; KD, 30 on 10-23. Nobody was going to get that eleventh shot. (Kanter was 10-14 for 25, just to kill the symmetry of the example.)
There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the fact that this is the first game of a back-to-back, and all the starters except Andre Roberson played over 30 minutes. Asked about that beforehand, Donovan said: “I play for today.” Tomorrow he gets to play for tomorrow, at home against the Charlotte Hornets.