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NBA Playoffs: Thunder barely outgun Nuggets

Apr 18, 2011, 4:01 AM EDT

nuggetsthunder1

In a weekend full of high intensity, close games full of excitement, it was only fitting that the Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets provided one last fireworks show. The game was the equivalent of some sort of bizarre video game. You have expected a mythical creature to burst through the floor and battle the players.

The Nuggets lead for the majority of the game, thanks to everything that got them to the fifth seed in the first place: ball movement, crack shooting, even scoring distribution with an attitude of “ruin all before you.” But the consistency from the Thunder was too much. If by consistency you mean Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Durant had the playoff game he was unable to muster against the Lakers last year, scoring 41 points on just 22 shots, while Westbrook had 31 points on 23 shots.

It would be easy to look at the Nuggets and consider their problem down the stretch to have been that lack of a star player. Then you look across the way and see what Carmelo Anthony managed against the Knicks especially on his final possession and maybe that wasn’t the answer. The Nuggets lost, but A. they pushed the Thunder on the road in the opener and B. did so without Aaron Afflalo. The Nuggets have a lot to feel good about going forward, except the biggest question entering the series: who’s going to guard Kevin Durant?

One thing that will be apparent going forward is that Nene is an unstoppable machine-man sent from the future to destroy us all. Nene banged knees with Kendrick Perkins in the third quarter, then came back in and helped spark the run which gave the Nuggets back momentum before the final Thunder push. He finished with 22 points and 8 rebounds, but the impact was greater considering how many people he posterized in the course of the night. That the Nuggets went away from him was mind boggling.

The Thunder have to be concerned with their defense. They eventually out-ran the Nuggets, but Denver shot 51% from the field despite shooting just 25% from 3-point land after starting 3-3. They surrendered a 110 efficiency and only slightly won the four factors battle. They had enough weapons to finish off the Nuggets Sunday but Game 1 proved this is likely to be a long, brutal series, and one that is likely to wind up with a few scuffles along the way. Put simply, these teams don’t like one another.

Some notes:

  • Eric Maynor was huge off the bench for the Thunder, particularly from the perimeter, hitting two spot-up threes. With Raymond Felton struggling across the board, that’s a big swing vote for OKC. Felton did have 8 assists, but he and J.R. Smith combined for 7-19 shooting off the bench. Denver’s strength is its depth. It can’t afford to lose points off the pine.
  • Kenyon Martin took 12 shots for Denver. Yeah, we don’t know either.
  • The Nuggets went away from Gallinari late for reasons which seem to confuse beyond all reason. He was just as unguardable for the Thunder, working both off the cut and from the perimeter. Balanced offense is great, but maybe give the players playing well more opportunities?
  • Durant had 16 at the half and finished with 41. He had 22 of 25 points the Thunder scored between the third and fourth quarter. In a round of Game 1s  full of insane performances from stars, Durant may have topped them all.
  1. mickdamill - Apr 18, 2011 at 11:26 AM

    Nuggets would have lost with or without Afflalo in, yes it was a close game but a win is a win in the playoffs. The Thunder did not have a great game and still pulled off this win, they only had 3 players score in double digits. Look especially for Ibaka and Harden to step up in game 2, if they are playing well who is going to be able to stop them?

    • passerby23 - Apr 18, 2011 at 11:41 AM

      I agree, too much is made of a game, i.e. “If the Thunder do this again…” How about if the Thunder get more balanced offensive contributions? How about if their defense even SLIGHTLY improves? How about if they contain Nene a little more? Then what is the outcome? The Thunder will win this series.

  2. thekingdave - Apr 18, 2011 at 11:52 AM

    The no call on the blatant offensive interference on OKC all but guaranteed a Denver loss. The NBA Playoffs- Where Amazing Officiating Happens.

  3. pff - Apr 18, 2011 at 12:16 PM

    Gallinari was bricking everything late in the game and could not hit free throws either. He was not a reliable option.

  4. Ryan Karhut - Apr 18, 2011 at 12:41 PM

    The refs were garbage in the OKC/Denver game and the Celtics/Knicks games. How is it so bad in playoffs? Ridiculous!
    Here are the hilights from both those games

    Two NBA Games End In Controversy http://wp.me/p11EPk-x0

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