Same old, same old for Thunder vs. Nuggets, who score a 115-105 victory
It was almost as if the Thunder was following a predetermined script, one that had played out in three previous losses to the Nuggets.
Russell Westbrook leaped into the air, fully extending one arm to pull down Nuggets forward Will Barton’s pass, he sprinted out in transition and scored a layup on the other end and cut Denver’s lead to six points.
For the fourth time this season, the Thunder was looking at a two-possession game with three minutes or less to go. In a 115-105 loss to Denver on Friday at Chesapeake Energy Arena, OKC’s night ended the same as it had in three previous matchups with the Nuggets (51-24): losing by at least seven points.
Had the Thunder (44-32) won, it would have clinched a Western Conference playoff berth. As it was, the Thunder slid past the Spurs to No. 8, after tiebreakers.
Thunder coach Billy Donovan said he didn’t see any patterns that could explain the uncanny similarities between the end to all four games against the Nuggets.
“We cut it down several times,” he said of Friday’s game, “and every single time they made a very timely shot to get the momentum back.”
The first started with a surge by Thunder center Steven Adams.
Denver center Nikola Jokic had already scored 10 points by the time Steven Adams made his first basket.
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But with about four minutes left in the second quarter, Adams muscled through Jokic to the rim. He made his next four shots to go into halftime shooting 5-of-7, and the Thunder trailed by just four points.
But the Nuggets outscored the Thunder 30-23 in the third quarter, so the Thunder needed Paul George to find his shot late in the game.
George wasn’t confirmed as a starter until after pregame warmups due to left shoulder soreness, and he had scored just 11 points heading into the fourth quarter. He scored 14 points in that period, and the Thunder was well on its way to a comeback when Barton hit a 3-pointer with 4:34 left in the game to extend the Nuggets’ lead back to double digits.
After free throws by Westbrook and George, and the aforementioned fast-break layup by Westbrook, it was a two-possession game again.
Then Jokic and Murray scored on back-to-back possessions. Murray’s pullup jumper was the shot that all but put the game out of the Thunder’s reach. As the 3-pointer fell through the hoop, and the Nuggets went up by 11 points with less than two minutes left in the game.
“Barton’s shot doesn’t go down, Murray’s shot doesn’t go down,” Donovan said, “those are long rebounds and those are outlet passes, the game may change a little bit. But it didn’t. They made them.”
With 25 seconds left in the game, Donovan pulled his closing lineup. Any win against the Nuggets this season would have to come in postseason. And with the Thunder struggling as it has out of the All-Star break and Denver outperforming expectations, a first-round matchup is certainly possible.