Oklahoma City has struggled greatly on the road this season. Kevin Durant has also been off his game since returning from injuries. The Thunder, in general, has not been itself this season following their slow start.
Well, none of that was evident on Monday night.
OKC stormed into Denver, outscoring the Nuggets by an outstanding 20 points in the first quarter, 38-18. While the Nuggets eventually struck gold on offense in the second, the Thunder maintained their strong play, and went into halftime with a 73-59 lead. KD had 24 at the half, combined with Russell Westbrook's 15 to lead the Thunder. For Denver, their relied-upon players did have good games, as Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler, and Kenneth Faried all had very solid games. At the half, Faried had 13, Chandler had 12, and Lawson had 10. They would keep up these solid numbers in the third and fourth quarters, but their efforts were definitely not enough to overtake Durant and the energized Thunder.
Speaking of Durant, he continued to have one heck of a game. Kevin scored 14 in the third, raising his point total after three to 38. Despite this, the Nuggets also had a solid quarter, as the third ended with no difference in the margin by which OKC was winning. Wilson Chandler had 11 points in the period to somewhat match KD, and paired with the nine points in the quarter for Kenneth Faried, Denver tried to build momentum to mount a fourth-quarter comeback.
The Thunder wouldn't have that.
Quarter number four was very low scoring. Lawson had a quarter-high eight for Denver, but the Nuggets only scored 22 in the period, not nearly enough to come back from a 14-point deficit. Rookie Mitch McGary for OKC continued to have a solid game, completing his 17-point, 10-rebound double-double in the quarter. Oklahoma City finished on top, 124-114, after only giving way by four in the fourth.
KD had a monster game, his second with 40 points throughout the entirety of this season (he finished with exactly 40). Westbrook scored 26 over the game's course, along with recording nine assists and five rebounds. Andre Roberson added 12, and Mitch McGary had the double-double mentioned before.
We've discussed the breakout performance of the Thunder's rookie big man Mitch McGary, but the Nuggets also had a rookie big man who shined. Jusuf Nurkic had 16 points and 14 boards to match the somewhat less impressive double-double of McGary. Nurkic was still not the only Denver player who had a solid game. Wilson Chandler led the squad with 23 points, but Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried were close behind, both with 22 points. Faried also added 10 boards, racking up his 14th double-double of the 2014-2015 season. Lawson was one assist away from his own double-double.
Aside from the final score, the stats in no way lean heavily towards the Thunder. The one category that can really separate the teams is their field goal percentage of 53.8 percent. OKC also shot 12 of 24 from beyond the arc, where the Nuggets went 9 for 28. Denver's 48.3 field goal percentage was also solid, just not enough to beat Durant and his attacking teammates. The Thunder did also have a 16-10 advantage in fast break points, and although they turned the ball over two more times than the Nuggets, they had a 17-16 edge in points off turnovers.
Whatever the case with the statistics of the game, the Thunder looked completely dominant on offense. Kevin Durant finally caught fire, Russell Westbrook had another key performance that has become his norm of the past few seasons, and some of the role players stepped up (McGary, Roberson) to energize the team even more to bring in a tough road win in Denver.
OKC is now 27-25, tied for ninth in the West. Their two-game split with the Pelicans, with whom they are tied with in the conference standings, really set them back, as now they are still 1.5 games back of Phoenix for the eighth playoff spot, whereas they could have been definitely in ninth and only half a game back of the Suns.
The Nuggets are in the spot behind the Thunder in the standings, but being eight games worse than New Orleans and OKC, they are not in any spot to go for a playoff run, like they have been doing in recent years.
This win certainly helped the Thunder, and hopefully will give them momentum for the final stretch before the All-Star break. Denver should hope that Nurkic and their other young players can develop nicely like they seem to be doing so far, so that they can make a run for the postseason in 2016.