You wouldn’t have thought it would have gone that way if you’d sat through the first four minutes and watched Denver run — well, amble, actually — to an 8-0 lead. And the first quarter ended with a blah 17-17 tie. But the Thunder second unit opened up a lead, and “Hey, aren’t we the division champs or something?” began to take hold. OKC was up six at the half, eleven after three, and won it 104-89, taking the season series 3-1.
The answer tonight, as it was at the Pepsi Center earlier this week, was interior defense: in neither game could the Nuggets garner more than eight points in the paint. Forced to rely on dialing long-distance, Denver put up 18 attempts from beyond the arc, but only five went down. And 18 times they gave up the ball, handing the Thunder an ungodly number of points.
Still, Denver showed plenty of moxie. The Nuggets’ starting frontcourt — Nenê, Kenyon Martin and Danilo Gallinari — were good for 49 points and 31 rebounds. And Raymond Felton (17 points) was good enough to make you wonder how it is that Ty Lawson is starting. On the other hand, Al Harrington rang up six fouls in less than 13 minutes, an indication of how frustrated Denver must have been; the 40.3 shooting percentage is another.
The Thunder shot 46.3 percent and outrebounded Denver 46-40. And that second-period burst was engineered by Daequan Cook (8 points) and James Harden (14). Kevin Durant got a statistically-average 28 on 9-21 shooting; he was, shall we say, Not In The Zone. The line you want to see, though, is Russell Westbrook’s: 17 points (7-15), six steals, eight assists, and only two turnovers. (Eric Maynor didn’t score, but he didn’t give up the ball at all.) Then there’s +22 Nick Collison, with two points but eight boards.
Three games left: Sunday at Los Angeles against the Lakers, Monday at Sacramento against the team potentially known as the Anaheim Royals, and the finale at home against the Bucks. Playoffs start the following weekend, and right now, it looks like Thunder vs. Nuggets.