The Nuggets are coming apart. They were wiped off the floor in Game 2 of a series they were supposed to be competitive in. J.R. Smith started saying J.R Smith things and now there’s a question of whether all that momentum of Game 1 was a figment of their imagination, or some fantasy concocted by those who like story lines more than actual basketball. For the Thunder, that proverbial “playoff gear?” It would appear they’ve hit it. If Game 1 showed what they could accomplish with only contributions from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, Game 2 showed the danger of the Thunder at full operational capacity.
The Nuggets have to find a level of defense they haven’t really performed at all season. They were 15th in effective field goal percentage allowed, and while the numbers improved after the trade of Carmelo Anthony, they didn’t improve enough to skyrocket the team into a good defensive position. They don’t turn you over at a high rate, nor do they won the glass, with one of the lowest offensive rebounding rates in the league. The Thunder defensively haven’t been as good as last year, but they do have the fundamental principles to play playoff basketball. The Nuggets have instead gotten away from the positive emotional tone they set down the stretch, and that’s been exacerbated by matchups.
The key for Denver is to get even contributions from all their players. They can’t afford a dip in production from player to player. No one has to be, nor can be relied upon to go off in a game, but they can’t simply disappear, either. J.R. Smith has been a no-show, and while Kenyon Martin and Birdman Anderson can’t be expected to contribute heavily, as they’re there mostly for defense in the lane, which they haven’t been great either, they have to give something.
Aaron Afflalo is expected to return for the Nuggets, and he could help, particularly with defense of James Harden, who blistered the Nuggets in Game 2. At the root of all of it, though, is emotion. The Nuggets have to feed on the home crowd and the “us against the world” approach they took after the trade. OKC is in the new position of being the favorites, up two games to none. They still need to take that attitude of fierceness, however. Slacking off and Denver will seize the opportunity. This series looks firmly in control of the Thunder. But series like this can change so quickly, they had better not leave anything to chance.