The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Denver Nuggets at home, 122-112. The Thunder, coming off a dispiriting Christmas Day home loss to the Bulls, got out of the gate sluggishly and after a poor defensive effort in the 2nd quarter, trailed at the half by 8 points.
The Thunder came out of the halftime break committed to regaining their composure on both ends of the court, tying the game up mid-way through the 3rd quarter. In the next 16 minutes of play, the Thunder offense regained their footing by outscoring the Nuggets, 49-39. It wasn't a great defensive effort by any means, but it was enough to earn the double-digit win.
The Thunder were led by Russell Westbrook, who loves competing against the Nuggets and nearly recorded a triple-double with 30 points, 12 assists, and 9 rebounds. Enes Kanter had perhaps his best game of the season, recording 21 points and 8 rebounds in 25 minutes. The Nuggets were led by Kenneth Faried, who finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
As we've written over the years, often times OKC vs Denver means lots of defense-optional style of play. Tonight was no different, even though the Nuggets are trying to rebuild themselves after several woeful seasons in the Brian Shaw era. These types of games can be fun while infuriating at the same time, because we know that if the Thunder had put a little bit more focus and energy on their interior game, namely defensive rebounding and post defense, this game would not have been in jeopardy even mid-way through the 4th quarter.
Fortunately for OKC, they found the right mix at the right time, and were able to get into the lane themselves repeatedly in the 4th quarter. Westbrook, who had little trouble going wherever he wanted against the Nuggets defense, repeatedly engaged the offense to either get to the rim himself or help set up his teammates. Enes Kanter, often regulated to clean-up duty, played a pivotal role against the weak Denver front line, scored 9 of his 21 points off the bench in the 4th.
Lastly, it is notable that rookie Cameron Payne got a chance to play meaningful minutes in this outing. His final stat line is solid, with 6 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists in 12 minutes. While his play was uneven in the 1st half, Payne hit two huge 3-pointers; one at the end of the 3rd quarter and one at the beginning of the 4th, which were pivotal in the Thunder finally asserting themselves in the stretch.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
Durant likes to say that hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard, but the truth is, sometimes talent is good enough. For much of this game the Nuggets out-played and out-hustled the Thunder, putting themselves in a position to steal a win on the road. However, at the end of the day, the combination of Westbrook, Durant, and Kanter were too much of an inside-outside game for the Nuggets to counter.
The Thunder probably still wish they had that Bulls game back, but at the very least, they did not compound the Christmas Day effort with a repeat performance, and halted their losing streak at a single game. Hopefully they halted the inconsistent play as well.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, 30 points, 12 assists, 9 rebounds, 1 steal
Thunder Down Under: Enes Kanter, 21 points, 8 rebounds in 25 minutes
Thunder Blunder: D.J. Augustin, who played only 6 minutes
Thunder Plunderer: Kenneth Faried, 25 points, 11 rebounds (8 offensive)
Next game: vs Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, Dec. 29th @ 7PM CDT