Tag: Nuggets Thunder

Russell Westbrook

NBA Playoffs: Serge Ibaka swats Thunder into the second round


Is there a more fun team to watch play than the Oklahoma City Thunder?

They are pure passion on a basketball court. It was true again Wednesday night as this game had everything a basketball fan (especially an Oklahoma City one) could want — a come from behind win (they were down 9 at the three minutes left), big shots from Russell Westbrook and James Harden, and bigger ones from Kevin Durant (he finished with 41). Durant helped the Thunder take the lead on running floater across the lane — how do you defend a floater that a 6’9” player releases with his arm over his head?

But in the end, it was Serge Ibaka that won this game.

He had 9 blocks including two late in the game on Nene that sparked the 100-97 win for the Thunder, who advance to the second round for the first time since coming to the Midwest.

In a sense, this game played out like most of the series — Denver was plucky, energetic, they hit shots and made plays. Wilson Chandler awoke from his slumber and hit key shots. Ty Lawson was slashing the lane, as was Raymond Felton.

But with the game on the line, when it becomes harder to make those plays, the Thunder have the better athletes. They made the big plays. Usually we’re referring to Durant and Westbrook, not Ibaka. But this game the Thunder won with defense as much as offense.

The Thunder defended well, holding the Nuggets to 100 points per 100 possessions, which is 12 points below their league-leading regular season average. Oklahoma City has defended well all series and that was the key to their win. There used to be questions about their ability to defend inside but Kendrick Perkins and Ibaka change that.

And that should worry the rest of the teams in the West.

As for Denver, it should be proud.

A lot of teams would have folded after the Carmelo Anthony trade, but Denver played better team basketball at both ends of the floor. They played with a chip on their shoulder. They showed that there is some real talent on this team. It still needs its star — it’s Durant — but even without someone like that the Nuggets showed just good team play can go a long way. There is something there to build on.

The Thunder will try to build on this in the second round against Memphis or San Antonio, two teams that will continue to beat each other up while the Thunder sit at home and rest. And wait.

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NBA Playoffs: Nuggets hold the line

Nuggets guard Smith celebrates a three-point shot in their NBA basketball game against the Timberwolves in Denver
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It seems easy, right? You win three games, you’ve proven you’re the better team, you’ve shown you can win on their floor, you’ve totally and completely demoralized them and all you have to do is do it once more and the series is through. But it never is, as the Oklahoma City Thunder found out Monday night as the Nuggets held the line, particularly the 3-point line, and got a win to make the series 3-1 headed back to OKC.

Sure, the Thunder are likely to finish the thing off in Game 5. But like the Spurs trying to fend off the Grizzlies, one win and the series is 3-2, and then the series comes back to Denver with a chance to knot it up.

Then again, once more the Thunder had a chance to close out the game, and this time couldn’t overcome their own mistakes. Russell Westbrook wanted to win this game. He was desperate to win this game. So much so that he deliberately ignored his teammates down the stretch and forced the shot, resulting in terrible decisions and a game  where the Nuggets faced the razor blade and managed not to get cut.

The big difference for the Nuggets? 9-19, 47% from 3-point range. Ty Lawson was huge with 27 points, constantly working to get to the rim. Danilo Gallinari finally stepped up, hitting 3-4 from deep and getting 18 points on 13 shots. When Gallinari is engaged, the Nuggets are an entirely different team. Meanwhile, the Thunder never got anyone outside of the Big 2 involved. The result is they have to try to close out the Nuggets in five, wasting precious time they could be getting healthy. The hardest thing for a young team to learn is how close out a team. The Thunder still haven’t figure that out.

NBA Playoffs: Doom, thy name is Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder v Denver Nuggets - Game Three
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Well, that was fun while it lasted.

It was nice to think Thunder-Nuggets was going to be an all-out clash of the titans. With thunder and lightning and demons and sorcery and the whole shebang. Instead, we get the Thunder, out-executing the Nuggets when it matters and where it matters in every game and a team without a star trying to rally around itself while down 3-0. The home crowd could be ready to fight tooth and nail, or it could be ready to concede a season lost to instability. The same could be said for the players.

The Nuggets aren’t slowing down Kevin Durant. They did a decent job in Game 3 and still lost. Their best chance came in Game 1 when Durant and Westbrok went off and the rest of the team was held in check. Things got away in Games 2 and 3 when James Harden and Serge Ibaka got involved. The solution? Give Durant the Kobe treatment. Let him go off, but shut down Westbrook by any means necessary (or possible) and keep the other guys down. The Nuggets bigs have to do a better job of holding control of the glass, especially against Ibaka, and Nene is going to have to have a big game.

For the Thunder? More of the same. Sharp execution. Durant being Durant. Westbook being Westbrook. Execute, and this team gets time to rest… young legs (?) before the next series. The Nuggets are down on the mat. If you’re the Thunder and you want to send a message about your inexperience, this is the game. Put the foot down.

The Nuggets cannot bring their small-ball lineup. Their most successful lineup against the Nuggets has featured Ty Lawson, Aaron Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari, Kenyon Martin, and Nene. Their worst top-five-in-minutes lineup this series has featured the same lineup, only with dual point guards in Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson. Getting Afflalo back wasn’t overall successful, but the Nuggets found somethings that worked.

Nene has to be huge in this game. Absolutely pivotal. He’s arguably the Nuggets’ best player, one with playoff experience but not hampered with age. He needs to be physical and dominant on both sides of the floor. As he goes, the Nuggets go.

And if he doesn’t go, the Nuggets are going home.