Denver made a living on a steady diet of second chance points and points off of turnovers against the Thunder. Though the squad worked to course correct in the second half, it wouldn’t be enough to overcome the deficit.
When the Thunder and the Nuggets returned to their respective benches at the end of the first quarter, the score was knotted up at 31. The momentum of the game undulated between both squads as all five starters scored for the Thunder while Nikola Jokic carried Denver with 15 points in the first frame.
Hiding beneath the tied score however, the Nuggets earned 13 of their 31 first quarter points off of offensive rebounds. This would be a theme that would cause the most trouble for the Thunder in its first game of its West Coast road trip.
Before the game, Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault noted that Denver’s offensive rebounding would be a key for the Thunder in the matchup considering the Nuggets were fresh off of a performance against Utah where they grabbed 23 offensive boards. In the first half, it would be the offensive glass that would give the Nuggets a definitive leg up over the Thunder as Denver tallied 25 points off of 13 offensive rebounds.
“That was kind of the game in the first half,” said Daigneault. “That’s the reason why they’re a good team. They make you do everything well and obviously we didn’t do that well enough in terms of gang rebounding.”
The Thunder addressed the offensive glass at the half and in the next two frames, would only allow seven total second chance points.
OKC put together moments of offensive rhythm behind the efforts of players such as Thunder guard Lu Dort who led the Thunder’s offense with a team-high 20 points on 3-6 shooting from behind the arc. Isaiah Roby, who stepped into his fourth start this season, recorded 10 points while snatching away four steals and nine rebounds.
Despite those small runs from the Thunder, the Nuggets offense continued to plug away following the lead of the Joker who finished the night with a game-high 27 points and 12 rebounds, five of which were offensive.
With the game out of reach, the fourth quarter saw action from Thunder players such as two-way players Moses Brown and Josh Hall. The pair combined for 15 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the field. In moments like these, the Thunder coaching staff has set the precedent with examples like Kenrich Williams, that they are watching those final minutes of the game as intently as they are watching the first.
“The larger theme is I thought they really played the right way which you never want to take for granted, especially with guys that aren’t rotation players right now,” said Daigneault. “I thought they did a really good job with the minutes they had.”
After a tie ball game in the first quarter, and a few runs for each team to begin the second, Denver took the reins before going into halftime thanks to a battering of three consecutive 3-pointers. A triple each from Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap opened the floodgates wide for the Nuggets to take control of the game offensively.
Between the second and third quarters, the Nuggets would outscore the Thunder 66-43 to put the game entirely out of reach by the final frame.
Midway through the third quarter, Isaiah Roby’s defensive activity led to a textbook 3-on-1 fast break opportunity for the Thunder. Roby zipped the ball ahead of the break to George Hill who had both Lu Dort and Darius Bazley running alongside him in transition. Hill flicked the rock to Dort who then dropped the ball behind him to Darius Bazley for the two-handed slam.
Denver finished the night with 32 second chance points as well as 28 points off of the Thunder’s turnovers. Coach Daigneault applauded his team’s first-shot defense, but the lesson lies in the group’s ability to find a body to box out and send five players to the boards. However, the Thunder managed to course correct in the second half only allowing seven total second chance points after allowing 25 in the first.
“It’s kind of tough just because the bigs are pretty good and it is hard to help off just because they cut so many times,” said Dort. “We just have to do a better job boxing out and stuff like that. We’ll watch film and get better.
On the offensive end, Denver’s defensive activity, using its length in the passing lanes caused the most disruption for the Thunder. Once again, the Thunder’s second half proved to be better than its first as it reduced 11 first-half turnovers to just eight in the second.
“They really force you to throw precision passes and really take care of the ball. They slap, they reach and grab and they’re pretty disruptive with it,” said Daigneault. “It was something that obviously gave us problems tonight but we’re seeing the pictures and learning from it.”
“I just think tonight they were the better team offensively and defensively. We didn’t put enough pressure on them on both ends of the floor to get a W. That’s just what it came down to.”
“Against those teams that compete for the playoffs, you cannot have okay games. You have to play the best way possible.”
— FOX Sports Oklahoma (@FOXSportsOK) January 20, 2021
The Mile High City was just stop one for the Thunder on its five-game road trip. The Thunder now takes to the City of Angels for a mini-series against the Clippers who the squad will play on Friday at 9 p.m. and then again in a Sunday matinee at 3 p.m. CT.
— FOX Sports Oklahoma (@FOXSportsOK) January 20, 2021