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Durant returns to dominance as Thunder beat Nuggets, 111-98

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Showtime for the Thunder's big three!

No image is sweeter.
No image is sweeter.
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

In a pre-season game that saw Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka play over 30 minutes each, the Oklahoma City Thunder were able to cruise to victory over the Denver Nuggets, 111-98. Durant was the galvanizing force behind the win, scoring 23 in vintage style. It was Durant's best performance of the pre-season, as he was finally able to re-gain his shooting ability. Serge Ibaka also had a hot hand tonight, shooting 7 of 8 enroute to 18 points. Ibaka was tremendous working within the flow of the offense early, and had some success with the pick and roll late. Not to be forgotten is Russell Westbrook, whom had a double-double with 17 points and 12 assists. Westbrook was particularly key during the first nine minutes of third quarter, during which time he scored or assisted on 19 of the Thunder's 20 points.

On Denver's side of things, Emmanuel Mudiay was nothing short of a wunderkind at the point. Mudiay was a respectable 8-17 from the field, showcasing some amazing ability to work around screens. The 5 turnovers were certainly bad for how much Mudiay handled the ball, but his scoring ability was apparent. Danilo Gallinari also had a decent outing, using his speed to score 16 points. Erick Green equaled that 16 points while coming off the bench. Augustin struggled to keep up with Green on the perimeter.

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot Chart

The Big 3 are back

The only time we saw the Thunder play without Durant, Westbrook, or Ibaka was after the game had already been decided. It might not be too much of a stretch to assume that we can see this pattern during the regular season as well. In the post-game press conference, Billy Donovan was very mercurial when discussing what types of combinations we'll see during the regular season. However, Westbrook got less time than Durant today due to committing a fifth foul.

Individually, Durant was the best of the bunch. KD scored in every quarter of the game, and showcased a variety of moves. There was the classic stuff, like fighting through contact to get to the rim and making catch and shoot jumpers. But KD had to do a couple of off-the dribble fadeaways today as well as a off-balance runner. Both shots looked beautiful. Easily the most advanced stuff he's been able to complete in the pre-season. Aside from that, KD was able to provide his usual intangible presence. Doing this like grabbing defensive boards, getting a block here, a steal there. Chandler beat KD on the weak side a couple of times, but it was never anything major.

Serge Ibaka was right behind Durant. It was clear from the outset that the Thunder recognized how weak the Nuggets are inside. Ibaka got the ball in the post off the pick and roll a bunch. It worked out, because the Nuggets bigs just weren't physical enough to stop Ibaka's hook shot near the rim. Ibaka was also useful as a floor spacer, bailing out the Thunder deep in the shot clock. Defensively, Ibaka had some problems giving up outside shots to quicker players, like Gallinari and Arthur. But it never got out of control.

Russell Westbrook rounds out the list of stars, and he was doing his new routine. Of course, we still saw the same death-defying drives to the hoop that we're used to. But unlike last year, Westbrook isn't taking a ton of mid-range pull-ups. Those are being replaced with post ups, where Russ is having great success. In fact, Westbrook took seven shots in the paint today, compared to just two from mid-range.

The only thing I didn't like about Westbrook's performance were the two quick fouls he committed towards the end of the third. Both fouls were avoidable, and brought Westbrook's total count up to five. This forced Russ out of the game, right after he had just finished contributing to 19 of the Thunder's 20 third quarter points.

Kanter is as flat-footed as ever

The biggest negative from tonight has to be Enes Kanter's defense. It was serviceable during the first half, during which time Kanter was paired with Serge Ibaka. But during the second half, Kanter was constantly getting targeted by Nikola Jokic and Joffrey Lauvergne. Kanter racked up six fouls in just 18 second half minutes. Furthermore, Lauvergne and Jokic were able to combine for 12 points in the second half. Aside from the points Lauvergne and Jokic scored, the Nuggets were able to generate 10 points in the paint while Kanter was on the floor in the second half. The poor defense exhibited here combined with the quick exit could spell doom against more lethal benches.

Granted, Kanter had some positives tonight. For one, Kanter was just as effective on the offensive end. Kanter bullied his man in the post on several occasions, and shot 66% enroute to 18 points. Furthermore, Kanter's presence at the start of the second half certainly helped get Westbrook going. Kanter's four offensive rebounds were certainly impressive as well. But really,  Kanter's four turnovers, mostly from shuffling his feet, really undermine the o-boards. Plus, a lot of Kanter's success came during the irrelevant tail end of the fourth quarter. In the end, I feel like Kanter's -6 +/- rating in a 13 point victory says it all.

Slammin' Notes

  • I can't believe I haven't mentioned Dion Waiters. After an atrocious showing against the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday, Waiters completely recovered tonight with 17 points and 3 assists. A good part of it has to to with KD and Westbrook. KD had two assists to Waiters, while Westbrook had one. But Waiters was able to generate a couple of jumpers on his own, as well. Sometimes in space, and sometimes around a screen. Really, Dion hit a shot from just about every sector of the floor. He's a dynamic offensive player, and excels at surprising you when the attention is on someone else.
  • I'd say the Thunder won this game, overall, because of three small reasons. Slightly better field goal percentage, slightly better offensive rebounding, and slightly less turnovers. Really, the Thunder and the Nuggets are two teams that love to score and push the pace, and the Thunder just happened to be more effective at it tonight. Also, I'd really have to credit OKC's stars with locking down during key moments of the first and third.
  • Steven Adams played a really, really physical game tonight. Lots of hard pick and rolls into the paint, where Adams had to fight to score. The basic Westbrook-Adams pick and roll is a great go-to play when times get tough. Adams was terrific defensively. I thought Adams had a couple of blocks, but the box score says I'm wrong. Nonetheless, Adams hedged mid-range shots from guards well, and you've gotta love that from a center. And don't forget Adams' three offensive rebounds in just 17 minutes. Free possessions are very important against offensively potent teams like the Nuggets.
  • Steven Adams left early in the second half after being poked in the eye and did not return. I didn't see the injury at the time. Brings memories of when Adams accidentally poked Boris Diaw in the eye back in 2014.
  • Kyle Singler checked in for Roberson at shooting guard for a while. Most of it wasn't really remarkable, as Singler simply clanked out a couple of corner threes. But during one play, Singler ran to the rim, got position, and completed an And 1 layup. It was similar to Singler's only positive offensive play this Friday at the Grizzlies. During that play, Singler ran the length of the floor, recieved the ball under the rim, and got fouled. I guess good timing can be considered a skill!
  • Nick Collison's only two shots were jumpers. Both were entirely uncontested, both clanked off the rim. I just wish one would go in, already! Some solid D though.
  • Cameron Payne only got played four minutes tonight. Aside from a garbage time steal and score, Payne didn't get to do much. D.J. Augustin, on the other hand, played 21 minutes. But Augustin's defense on Erick Green was definitely lacking. Offensively, Augustin only had two points and a single assist. This was the first time Augustin was really favored by coach Donovan. Eith only one pre-season game to go, it appears that Augustin will be the backup point. But if Donovan isn't satisfied with the low numbers, I could still see Payne getting a shot at some real minutes on Tuesday night.
  • Steve Novak came in late, and missed three open threes. A couple weren't off great passes, but he only has one job!
  • Anthony Morrow was also bad, going 0-2 from three. Both of the shots were open, but definitely rushed.
  • Talib Zanna cameo! 50 seconds of pure hustle and muscle.
  • Mitch McGary sat out tonight with a concussion. He will not return until he can pass the NBA's mandated test.

Marina's Awards

Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, he'll be back

Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, another fundamentally sound shooting exhibition

Thunder Blunder: Enes Kanter, see defense rant above

Thunder Plunderer: Emmanuel Mudiay, whom I think is gonna be rookie of the year

Next Game: At the Utah Jazz, Tuesday, October 20th, 8 PM Central Daylight Time.

What did you think of tonight's game? Vote in the poll or drop a comment and let us know!