Four games in five nights makes for an exhausting ordeal.
The Thunder epitomized that last night when they ran out of gas late in the fourth quarter against the Nuggets. It was a long, hard fought game, one that was marked by the departure of Carmelo Anthony late in the 3rd, and a early 4th quarter run by the Thunder.
Most of the early game was as you would expect it to be, given that both teams were fighting for a playoff spot. Both team's scores were never more than 4 points apart, and only then early in the first, when the Nuggets lead 8 to 4. This means that for the vast majority of the time, the teams were evenly matched, seesawing back and forth.
The teams didn't start to separate themselves from each other until the 3rd, when the Nuggets started to make a bit of a run, by virtue of an illegal defense call on Jeff Green and a missed shot by Kevin Durant. After a timeout, the Thunder mounted a slow but steady comeback by slowing down the pace of the game. It all came to a head at the end of the 3rd, when Carmelo Anthony fell to the floor while backing into Kevin Durant. The Nuggets were down by 7, and he was obviously frustrated after missing his last 7 field goal attempts. Some of the people involved thought he was faking, myself included, so the game played on. But he continued to lay at the other end of the floor, only prompting a stoppage of play after the Thunder committed a turnover and the Nuggets could call a timeout. After some more quality time spent laying on the floor, he got up and walked over to the bench. Apparently, he got a slight neck sprain from ramming his head into Kevin Durant's chest, but he returned to the game in the fourth.
Below: More Recapping, Analysis, Awards
The Thunder continued to stay on top, with both teams playing at a snail's pace, and the Thunder slowly building up a lead. The lead swelled to 13 with 7:20 to go, but then Chauncey Billups took over. He had 9 points in 3 minutes, to go along with an And 1 from J.R. Smith and a Carmelo Anthony jumper. The Thunder looked gassed and at that point, they could no longer make a run. They were simply playing damage control, hoping to slow the pace of the game enough to where they could win by limiting the other team's possessions. Unfortunately, it was not to be, as the Nuggets tied the game at 94 with 1:31 to go. The Thunder missed their next 4 shots and committed a turnover, while the Nuggets fought their way to victory by getting to the line.
After the game, many people criticized Coach Brooks' decisions during the later part of the game. Where was Ibaka during the second half? Why was Sefolosha playing? Why didn't he dig deeper into the bench mid-game?
Well, those criticisms can be answered....by the man himself! I got a chance to talk to (or, more correctly, "listen in on") Scott Brooks as he talked to the media at the Thunder Practice today.
When responding as to why Ibaka wasn't playing in the second half, he mentioned that it was hard to get Serge in initially, because the Nuggets were playing small, and he didn't want them to have a mismatch to exploit. Then he explained that the Thunder went on a run, and that he couldn't take Collison out, because Collison took 3 charges and had 2 blocks in 9 possessions.
He also explained that he slept on not using the 9 man rotation, but he made the decision to keep using it. He went on to explain that the Thunder play to win, and that the players can rest between games.
But, in the end, he admitted that he wanted a do over, now that the Thunder had lost.
In my opinion, it's easy to see the calls he made both ways. He's a good man for admitting that there are things he might have done differently in retrospect. The most questionable call had to be going with Sefolosha in the 4th quarter. He wasn't used at all on offense, letting the Nuggets ignore him on defense and clog the lane. Billups was also able to blow him by on defense. There really wasn't a big reason to have him out there, but given that Harden had gone 1 for 7 the entire night and that Maynor hadn't scored at all, I can see the call there. In the end, I think it's a game we'd all like to have back.
On to the Awards....
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 33 Points, 11 Rebounds, 4 Assists, 3 Turnovers, 1 Steal, 3 Blocks. Before the game, I said that Kevin Durant would not only have to match Carmelo Anthony's scoring, but he would have to exceed it as well in order for the Thunder to win. He definitely did that tonight, outscoring Anthony by 9. He missed a few shots, but he was obviously gassed from the previous games. All in all, a great performance from KD last night.
Thunder Down Under: Nick Collison, 12 Points, 9 Rebounds, 2 Blocks. Nick Collison had a contingent of fans tonight. They were wearing construction hats and dubbed themselves "Collison's Crew". He lived up to their expectations tonight. He not only almost had a double double, but he scored during key moments in the game and did the little things, like set picks and take charges. It's an award that's definitely deserved for a normally quiet Thunder Player.
Thunder Blunder: Nenad Krstic, 4 Points, 0 Rebounds. He didn't do anything terrible, but he showed a complete inability to rebound. 0 rebounds in 18 minutes is pretty bad for a center.
Thunder Plunderer: Chauncey Billups, 31 Points, 8 Rebounds, 3 Assists, 4 Turnovers, 1 Steal. With Carmelo Anthony off his game and the Birdman injured for the night, Chauncey Billups took the scoring reigns for the Nuggets, and he lead the team brilliantly. As mentioned earlier, he had 9 points in 3 minutes at a critical juncture of the game, along with hitting the two free throws that put the Nuggets up at the end of the 4th. If I was a Detroit fan, I'd still be seriously regretting trading this man.
Next Game: Versus the Suns, Friday, April 8th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.
The tough schedule continues....