The Denver Nuggets often present problems for the Oklahoma City Thunder, mainly because of Nikola Jokic’s skill set. Surely newly voted NBCA Co-Coach of the Year Billy Donovan didn’t think too seriously about a game plan for Michael Porter Jr., but that came back to bite OKC in the rear end.
Denver controlled the pace of the majority of the game and could rely on the Jokic/Porter Jr. duo to hit shots or get to the line when they were desperately in need.
Denver’s duo combined for 67 points on 22-37 shooting, including a near-perfect 19-20 from the free-throw line. Statistically, it would be hard to believe that the Thunder was one Chris Paul free throw away from pulling this game out. It wasn’t the prettiest performance for OKC. They looked like they were missing the league’s sixth man of the year. They looked lost without Paul leading the offense, and the offense looked more stagnant. More stagnant than normal to the point where it threw the Thunder out of rhythm.
Twenty-three of Denver’s points came off of OKC’s 15 turnovers. While the Nuggets also suffered from sloppy play, committing 12 turnovers themselves, OKC struggled to find any momentum to convert on those turnovers, only scoring 13 points off Denver’s missteps.
OKC may have lost their first game in the Orlando bubble in dramatic fashion, but there are still positives to take away from it. Shai seemed out of sorts in the first half, especially while running the point. He shot 1-5 in the first half and had five fouls through three quarters, but regrouped when it mattered most (the fourth quarter) and finished the game strong. Shai’s numbers turned out rather impressive, shooting 6-13 from the field (5-8 in the second half), scoring a team-high 24 points and adding five rebounds. He also netted 9-of-11 free throws.
“If I make that free throw with 2.9 seconds left I think we win the game.”Chris Paul on his potential game-winning free throw.
Paul had the blunder in the final seconds of regulation that could have won the game for OKC, but he also played a lead role in keeping Denver within arms reach the entire game. In a game that OKC rarely controlled, Paul kept OKC under control. He finished with 23 points and eight assists on 8-17 shooting.
Lastly, when Schröder announced that he left the bubble for a family matter, I knew that one of the bench players would have to pick up the slack offensively. While this wasn’t OKC’s most impressive performance by the bench, scoring just 27 points, it was a very impressive showing by Abdel Nader, who had one of those games where he was very efficient from three, shooting 3-4 for 13 points.
It was a foregone conclusion that the Thunder would struggle without Schroder but they should have beaten the Nuggets, and they needed to because their next game will be against the team with the best record in the Western Conference and the best player in the NBA in the LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.