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5 more thoughts on Thunder’s loss to Denver

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Not ready to quick thinking about the Thunder’s struggles against Denver.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Since I didn’t have a chance to do a better job with the Nuggets recap, here are five more random quick thoughts I had while reflecting on the Thunder’s loss.

1. That’s three straight games that Paul George has not played well against Denver.

To be sure, some of George’s shots were just off, but in a year where he’s burning up the nets against just about any kind of defense thrown at him, the underperformance is strange.

It also reminds me of something I wrote a short while ago — every player needs some sort of set play to give him looks that he can use to create offense. Even Paul George. The Nuggets did a great job at getting him out of his shooting rhythm, always ready to step up on him when he came around screens and off of curls, and it had a profound effect on his offense. But one or two set plays to either get him in more situations to draw fouls or get into the lane might have got him going a lot sooner than the 4th.

To be sure, George never checked out, and his defense was key in giving the Thunder a shot to win. But even so, if he plays up to even average standard, OKC probably has a shot to win this one.

2. The Nuggets remind me of an old John Wooden mantra: “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”

In other words, they don’t play super fast, but they’re also not ground-and-pound either.

Denver isn’t looking to push the pace most of the time (Jokic-led fast breaks being the rare exception), but once they get into the half-court set, everything is moving quickly and with purpose. Everyone is moving, cutting, and popping to the perimeter, in part because Jokic makes them move.

So while their overall pace is one of the league’s slowest (bottom 10), their offensive rating and point differential are both top 3.

3. Denver’s defense has a weird effect on the Thunder

I believe this flows right out of Denver’s offense — because their scoring ability is so efficient, it adds additional pressure on the Thunder’s own offense to perform at a high level.

I don’t think of the Nuggets defense the same way I do the Bucks’ or even the Thunder’s, but what they do exceptionally well (and better than OKC) is stick to the plan. They decide what they will give up and what they won’t give up, and believe those odds will always play in their favor. The net result is OKC seems to never really be sure what they want to do offensively, which led to so many forced PG jumpers and Westbrook turnovers as he was literally waiting for plays to develop.

Meanwhile, OKC’s defense is not wholly ineffective against Denver, and that is reason for optimism. Even with Jokic running the show, the Thunder did a commendable job crashing down on him for a lengthy stretch (at one point they were on a 24-6 run), which led to a brief 4th quarter lead. The problem is, without consistent offense to play off of it, once Denver slowed things down again in the final 5 minutes, and George wasn’t hitting shots, OKC was out of luck.

4. It shudders me to write it, but OKC’s long-term chances may come down to Dennis Schroder’s ability to make shots.

I actually think Schroder making his shots is even more important than Westbrook making his. Heck, the record has borne it out that OKC can win lots of games even when Russ shoots 5-20 but still rolls up 15 assists.

But if Schroder isn’t making shots, his inability to run a functional offense completely kills the bench’s output.

5. Denver is better than OKC, and I’m OK with that

For the third time, I’m writing that the Thunder just don’t seem to know how to play well against Denver, and after 3 straight losses (and 3 out of 4 last year), we have to cede that it simply isn’t just the Thunder playing poorly every single time.

I know I’m contractually required to dislike Denver for 3 hours every time the Thunder play them, but it doesn’t last for long. They represent a wonderful blend of headiness, shotmaking, and an inverted offense that the Grizzlies always hoped for with Marc Gasol but never quite achieved.

If the elite teams this year are the Warriors, Bucks, Raptors, and Denver, Denver has a shot.