The Nuggets ended a challenging homestand with positive momentum.
A win-weary Denver team earned a 113-107 victory Saturday night over the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder. The team salvaged a challenging four-game stretch inside Ball Arena at 2-2 after losses to Boston and Phoenix. Nikola Jokic predictably led the way with 35 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.
Jokic has now accounted for 60 double-doubles this season (most in the NBA).
The Nuggets (44-31) head out on a two-game road trip starting Monday at the Charlotte Hornets with just seven games left in the regular season. Denver is currently fending off the Minnesota Timberwolves for the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference playoff race.
On Saturday night, it helped that Oklahoma City lacked its best players with injuries to point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (ankle) and rookie shooting guard Josh Giddey (hip). Just don’t call it a sure thing.
The Thunder led 105-103 with under three minutes to go in the fourth quarter after a goaltending call on Aaron Gordon. But the Nuggets went on a quick 7-0 run with a Jokic layup, Gordon free throws and Monte Morris 3-pointer with 47 seconds left. Jokic sealed the win with an and-one finish inside.
The Nuggets established an early double-digit lead with Jokic feasting on Oklahoma City’s absence of physical rim protectors. The reigning MVP also flexed his quarterback skills with a trademark full-court pass to a streaking Gordon for a layup. But reserve Thunder guard Lindy Waters got hot from 3-point range (4 of 10 on the night) to force a Denver timeout ahead just 35-31 early in the second quarter.
Reserve center DeMarcus Cousins established the tone on Denver’s next offensive set with a hammer dunk and snarl for the home crowd. The starters checked back in and the advantage grew with a 10-0 run. Jokic closed the first half with 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the floor. An improved Nuggets defense held the Thunder to only 49 points at halftime.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone explained the importance of improving overall defensive play before the game.
“I think it starts with our offense, which sounds strange, but the number of turnovers which are just fueling teams’ breaks and giving easy points in transition,” Malone said. “I think the rebounding has been a big surprise for me. We’ve been a great defensive rebounding team all year long as a whole, but lately, when you combine the points off turnovers and second-chance points allowed, that is a lot more than what we were giving up earlier in the year. The last part I would say would be our 3-point defense.”
The Nuggets committed 15 turnovers on Saturday night and outrebounded Oklahoma City 47 to 36. The Thunder shot 38% from behind the arc.
Denver received strong contributions from Will Barton (18 points/seven assists) and Gordon (20 points/nine rebounds).
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism