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OKC defense can’t match up with Nuggets

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Denver's Nikola Jokic goes to the basket to score past Oklahoma City's Steven Adams during the fourth quarter of Friday's game at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Denver won, 115-105. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]
Denver's Nikola Jokic goes to the basket to score past Oklahoma City's Steven Adams during the fourth quarter of Friday's game at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Denver won, 115-105. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]

Thunder center Steven Adams switched onto Denver guard Jamal Murray, forcing him to shoot a 3-pointer while leaning back. Underneath the basket, though, was Jerami Grant all alone, mismatched against two 7-footers in Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Mason Plumlee.

Jokic easily grabbed the ball over Grant, and Grant had no choice but to foul.

"They worked really hard for the 48 minutes," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "Were they perfect? No. I think sometimes you have to give the opponent some credit too in what they were able to do in those situations."

It didn’t really matter how the Thunder defended the Nuggets in a 115-105 loss. For all its effort, the Thunder was still outdone by the Nuggets offense. Denver swept the season series 4-0.

The times the Thunder switched, it gave up rebounds or silky fadeaways to Murray in mismatches. Murray was still able to score those fadeaways when the Thunder defended straight up with Dennis Schroder giving up three inches to the 6-4 Murray.

Then, the Thunder had issues going under screens, Russell Westbrook and Schroder each going under and the Nuggets taking advantage with 3-point shots. Donovan said the Thunder wants to go under the screen in certain instances, but the combination of Will Barton and Gary Harris went 4-of-7 from 3. The Nuggets shot 14-of-33 from 3 and 56.5 percent overall.

"I think the biggest thing in the game was the 3-point line," Donovan said. "They had some open looks and they made them, and the ones that were highly contested they made them."

But there were also issues when the Thunder tried to stay in man-to-man and had busted coverages. Twice in the third quarter, Nerlens Noel stayed behind a Thunder guard in defensive coverage rather than stay home on his assignment when the ball was driven. Twice, Plumlee hit uncontested floaters.

"We’ve got to do a better job of not letting him get behind our head in those situations," Donovan said. "The other part of it, too, is if it does happen, we’ve also got to rotate a little better on the baseline to cover for each other."

Triple-double watch

With nine rebounds, Westbrook locked up a double-digit rebound average for the third consecutive season.

Assuming he plays the Thunder’s final six games, Westbrook entered Friday needing four rebounds to average double-digits for the season. Westbrook reached four in the second quarter.

Westbrook entered Friday needing 44 assists over his final seven games to average double-digit assists for the season. He now needs just 35 after pulling down nine on Friday.

George struggles

Paul George was OK to play after being questionable with left shoulder soreness, but George had a struggle in between the first and fourth quarters.

George shot 3-of-11 in the second and third quarters. He finished with 25 points, but labored on 22 shots.

"For the most part, I don’t worry about him at all," Donovan said. "He didn’t shoot it great tonight, but he’s done OK. He had some looks tonight that didn’t go down, but he got it going in the second half."

Tip-ins

With 2-of-4 from 3-point range on Friday, Jerami Grant increased his 3-point percentage to 39.2 for the season (98-of-250) and 43.2 percent (35-of-81) since the All-Star break. … With San Antonio idle Friday, the Thunder fell to No. 8 in the Western Conference.

Erik Horne

Erik Horne is in his fourth season on the Thunder beat. Horne joined The Oklahoman as a sports web editor/producer in September 2013 following a five-year stint at The Ardmoreite (Ardmore) – first as a sports writer, then sports editor. At The... Read more ›

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