Oklahoma City Thunder 114, Denver Nuggets 106: 2010-2011 Game 31 Recap; Christmas Day Win on ESPN, Yet Another Fourth Quarter Push, Kevin Durant with 44 Points

Yahoo! Sports Box Score:

Well, it was a win that only happened because of the lack of Carmelo Anthony.

But you know what? I don't care! Best wishes to Carmelo, but this was a huge win for the Thunder, regardless of the lack of Anthony. The Nuggets were still playing the same game, and scoring with the same ease.  And even in the face of great adversity, the Thunder still managed to overcome what was an 8 point lead and shut down the Nugget's chances of winning with a couple of minutes to go.

The Thunder really had problems in the paint tonight. It's not blatantly obvious from the stats, but at times the Nuggets would play with someone like Nene, Kevin Martin, or Chris Andersen at Center, and have the rest of the lineup consist of guards. Despite this fact, the Nuggets still managed to score in the paint easily. And when the Thunder would miss a shot, the entire Nugget team would congregate in the paint for a rebound. It's kind of like those stuck-up girls who would form circles in already too-narrow High School halls.

But you know who equaled that out? Kevin Wayne Durant (Thunder Wonder). 44 Points gave him a season high, with 7 Rebounds, 4 Assists, 2 Steals, and 2 Blocks. Does it get any better than that? You can't ask for much more out of your star player. And the best part is that he only had 4 points in the fourth quarter. Yes, unlike other superstars who would have kept forcing the issue, he sat on the bench in the early fourth while Eric Maynor and James Harden scored, and then when he came in, he deferred to Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and Jeff Green. He had two assists down the stretch and failed to produce points on only one shot.

Below: Harden's Excellence, Mistakes from Green and Ibaka, Billups Doing Well But The Nuggets Not, Future Analysis, More Awards!

James Harden (Thunder Down Under) also finally lived up to the hype, seemingly embodying J.R. Smith out there. He scored 21 Points,  and had 3 Rebounds, 2 Assists, and a Steal. After a couple of blunders early on, he carried the team through the second quarter and scored some essential points down the stretch.

Unfortunately, with the good comes the bad. Jeff Green (Thunder Blunder) had another terrible game, allowing his man to score on him almost at will while being borderline useless on offense, shooting 33%. He did have a couple clutch plays down the stretch though, which had been his only saving grace over these past two games. Serge Ibaka also failed to impress, committing two stupid errors in a row again (offensive basket interference and a loose ball foul), forcing Nenad Krstic to come on during the final minute of the third. He had a couple of blocks and points after that, but he did commit another illegal defense foul (3 in the key I believe). If Ibaka can fine-tune his game and get rid of those stupid mental errors, he could be a much better player on a more consistent basis.

And speaking of the return of Nenad Krstic, it wasn't anything to write home about. 4 points, 50% shooting, 8 rebounds, and 2 assists. He's not a game changer, but he is an improvement over D.J. White's 2.9 PPG and 2.4 RPG. So, at least that's something.

On Denver's side of the ball, things went pretty well from the standpoint of role players playing better than they should have. But J.R. Smith played terribly, leaving them with really only one go to scorer in Chauncey Billups. Lawson and Hilario both played well, but they didn't turn out to be incredibly reliable in the clutch, leaving Billups stranded at times. Regardless, Billups is today's Thunder Plunderer with 30 Points, 3 Rebounds, 3 Assists, and 2 Steals.

Moving forward, this was a crucial win over Denver, giving us the advantage in all Northwest Division season series so far save for Utah, with whom we are tied. Denver drops to 16-12, which is only four games over .500. They have some easier matchups approaching though, so they should be able to keep the ship afloat while Carmelo Anthony is gone. But the situation of him will still remain unresolved even after he comes back, as it is widely rumoured that he could be gone before the trade deadline. And what then? Depending on what the Nuggets get, don't get, or refuse to trade, they could end up being a high seed in the West or a lottery-bound team when the fat lady sings. All I know is that I'm glad to be a fan of a stable team with a bright future. But, if you put a Jim Traber truth serum in me, I'd probably say that Carmelo stays and they becomes a first or second round out in the playoffs.

Next Game: Versus the Dallas Mavericks, Monday, December 27th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.

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