For a third-straight game, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s effort was unmatched.
The Denver Nuggets (14-11), much like the Los Angeles Lakers earlier this week, failed to pack a lunch and OKC nearly made them pay.
After leading for over 46 minutes, the short-handed Thunder fell victim to a late Denver run in a 97-95 loss but again showcased the type of competitiveness and energy that seems to rattle opponents.
“I was happy with how we competed,” Thunder head coach Mark Daignault said after the game. “Our competitiveness never wavered and that’s obviously the top priority. We checked that box again tonight.”
Oklahoma City (10-15) opened the game with a 10-2 run, slowing down a Nuggets attack averaging the third-most points per game in the league this season.
With a mix of feisty defense and strong rebounding, the Thunder set the tone en route to a 28-16 first-quarter advantage. They may be starting to develop a reputation for the hardhat style played to build that lead.
OKC scored 13 points off turnovers in the first half and held Denver to just two. The Thunder also out-rebounded the Nuggets 26-20, allowing only four second-chance points.
Nikola Jokic was a pest with 16 points in the first 24 minutes, but Jamal Murray was held to seven and Michael Porter Jr. to just two.
The Thunder carried the momentum into halftime, up 53-40 before the Nuggets adjusted with a counterpunch in the second half. Murray provided the pop for Denver, scoring 15 of his game-high 22 points after the break.
The Nuggets became more active overall, taking advantage of its depth while Oklahoma City limped down the stretch with eight players.
“We labored offensively in the fourth,” said Daignault. “I thought our pace slowed down. They did make more shots, whether it was our mistakes or them just making them, which slowed us down. It was a combination of things.”
Jokic, who scored 22 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, lost his defender off a screen and drilled a mid-range jumper to give Denver its first lead at 90-89 with 1:21 remaining.
OKC never regained control, showing the effects of missing budding star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and capping its road trip with the third of three hard-fought losses.
“There are going to be nights like that,” said Thunder guard Kenrich Williams. “The main thing you want to focus on is the way you compete. I think the past three games, although we didn’t win I thought we came out and competed, especially with having eight guys.”
Justin Jackson led the Thunder with a season-high 20 points off the bench.
Al Horford and Hamidou Diallo each scored 16. while Luguentz Dort poured in 15.
Williams, who was on triple-double watch in the final minutes, ended with seven points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists.
Oklahoma City returns home Sunday to host the Milwaukee Bucks (16-10). Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT.