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Denver Nuggets vs Oklahoma City Thunder: 2011 NBA Quarter-Finals, Game 2; Enough Talk, There's a Game to Play

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Records: The Denver Nuggets (50-32) vs. The Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27)

Series: Thunder lead, 1-0

Time: 7:00 PM Central Standard Time

Place: Oklahoma City Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

TV: FSOKHD, Altitude Sports

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), KHTK 1140 AM

Enemy Blog(s): Denver Stiffs, Roundball Mining Company

Tonight the Nuggets come back into OKC Arena to try and steal game two from the Thunder, who by way of good fortune and good free throw shooting held on to win Game One. While much of the post-game attention turned to the late-game controversy involving the Kendrick Perkins no-call, it is easy to forget what led the two teams up to that point.

The Nuggets started out the game burning down the nets, hitting on their first seven shots and racing to a double-digit lead. Did the Nuggets catch the Thunder by surprise? I don't think so; I think it had more to do with the Nuggets cranking it up to 11 and the Thunder simply could not match the energy. It is difficult to maintain that intensity though, and after the first quarter things began to settle down a bit. What seems to have gone unreported is that, despite the Nuggets' fast start, the Thunder were able to almost completely reverse it by the end of the second quarter, and it was only a one point game at the half.

Once the midway point was passed, the Thunder returned to their strong defensive ways. After giving up 33 in the 1st quarter, OKC only gave up 43 in the second half. Nene had a brief flourish in the end to help the Nuggets retake the lead, but by and large the second half was controlled by the Thunder because they were able to slow down the pace and make each possession more important. A repeat performance of this emphasis obviously works in the Thunder's favor.

However, I have been reading a lot of statements like this one:

Should the Denver Nuggets have more confidence than ever, since it took them shooting 25% from beyond the arc, J.R. Smith and Ty Lawson combining for just 19 points, 72 points from Durant and Westbrook and an embarrassing no-call on a blatant offensive basket interference for the Thunder to top them by a whopping four points? - Hardwood Hype

It is a valid perspective. Here is another one - the Nuggets played a game in which they held a double-digit lead for most of the 1st half, shot over 50%, had 23 assists on their 39 field goals, and scored almost half of their points in the paint. They had 60 points at halftime and were playing great Nuggets basketball. They still lost. So while the Nugget faithful can argue well that some positive changes can push them over the hump, it is important not to forget that the Thunder did not play anywhere near as well as they're capable.

Here is what I'd like to see:

More Of This

  • The Thunder did a great job helping Kevin Durant get into the seams where he could stroke his practically automatic 15 footer. Durant returned the favor by continuing to look to drive the basketball when the opportunity presented itself. He has played much more aggressive against the Nuggets than any other team, which is further evidence that he does not see their defensive scheme as something to over-think.
  • The Thunder fell victim to a number of runners in the lane made by Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton, but it was encouraging to see that they were able to mostly close off the lane, prohibiting the easy layups we saw in the April 5th game.
  • The Thunder did a good job keeping the Nuggets off of the offensive glass. Denver only had five for the game. What went mostly unnoticed was the fact that Durant led all rebounders in the game with nine.
  • Russell Westbrook played the game at a nice even pace, and even his jump shots looked smoother. I noticed that on his 3-point shots in particular, he no longer seems to over-elevate. He shot 3-4 from 3-point land in the game. I honestly don't expect this rate to continue, but it was good that Westbrook saw the openings and stepped up to shoot them.
  • Second half defense was commendable, and the Thunder need to get to that place of defensive focus much more quickly this time out.

Less Of This

  • The two main offensive culprits in Game One were Serge Ibaka and James Harden. They were both presented with a number of shots that they normally make. The two combined to shoot 2-13 for eight total points. The Thunder should not plan on Durant/Westbrook combining for 70+ points; these two guys have to be able to step up and make these shots.
  • The Thunder have to do a better job defending Nene when he sets up for high screens. There were a number of sequences where he was able to roll off his man with ease and dunk on the Thunder defenders.
  • The Thunder only had 15 assists in the game. I fully expect the Nuggets to run hard at Durant in Game Two, and it will be incumbent on Durant to pass out of the double-team.
  • Apparently Kevin Durant got into a bit of a Twitter flame war. He needs to keep his head above the fray.

Prediction: Thunder 102, Nuggets 92