With the memories of OKC’s tough loss to Milwaukee – also in OT – still fresh in fans’ minds, watching OKC collapse despite being up 7 with less than 5 minutes to go was a brutal experience.
Yes, the Thunder are a developing team and going blow for blow with one of the Western Conference’s leaders is a good base for a moral victory. But with an actual statement victory so close, the loss is a tough pill to swallow for Thunder fans.
Denver needed a combined 69 points from Aaron Gordon and Nikola Jokic to defeat the home team. Oklahoma City were led by 31 points from breakout star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who also had 11 assists and 7 rebounds to continue his early All-Star campaign. Gilgeous-Alexander is in fine form and matched the reigning MVP stride for stride.
Isaiah Joe contributed 21 off the bench on red hot shooting while Luguentz Dort finished the game with a steady 18 points. OKC got contributions across the board but were still unable to take down the Nuggets.
Let’s take a look at some of the numbers that might explain how the game unfurled.
Both teams were p even in the battle of points/100 possessions and eFG%, but the Thunder were disadvantaged by the Nuggets’ strong offensive rebounding (38.8%) and solid free throws per field goal attempt rate (37.5%).
Denver finished with 17 offensive rebounds and shot 41 free throw attempts, converting 33. The Thunder are struggling to close out possessions and offensive rebounds are making it difficult for the OKC to defend well.
In contrast, OKC pulled down 39 boards and went 24-of-28 from the charity stripe.
SGA and company were able to level the playing field by winning the turnover battle. The Thunder forced the Nuggets to a 17.8 TOV% and gained a net nine possessions in the contest. OKC turned Denver over 19 times while only coughing up 10 turnovers.
Unfortunately for the Thunder, they only scored 9 points off turnovers, while Denver converted 18.
Both teams took 29 attempts at the rim but the Nuggets converted 6 more times and drew two more shooting fouls.
OKC converted two more shots from midrange but did so on 7 more shot attempts, which was in large part due to their 2-of-10 shooting from shots outside 14 feet but inside the 3-point arc. The Thunder struggled to hit on long twos which harmed the team’s offensive output
The Thunder was efficient from deep, hitting 18-of-40, including 5-of-12 from the corners. Denver went 14-of-38, including 6-of-21 from non-corner spots. They did hit 8-of-17 from the corners, which is a product of good offense and defensive breakdowns on help rotations.
With the game so tight, one cannot help but wonder how different the result would have been had OKC shot even marginally better at the rim.
The Thunder are a young team that will grow from these experiences. The loss will hurt in the short-term but that emotion is much better than the indifference that stems from constant losing.
*statistics courtesty of Cleaning the Glass.