The Denver Nuggets finally lost a game, dropping tonight’s contest to the Oklahoma City Thunder 101-99. Jamal Murray had a chance to tie it at the buzzer, making a move to create space from Luguentz Dort. Unfortunately, he came up short, and the Nuggets win streak finally ended at nine games.

The game was tied at 99 with 30 seconds remaining after two clutch free throws from Zeke Nnaji. The Thunder used all 24 seconds of the shot clock and two timeouts to earn the next basket, an up-and-under from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with nine seconds remaining. Denver had an opportunity to tie or take the lead at the end, but Murray’s jumper fell short.

“I got a great look. I was making that shot all night,” Murray lamented postgame. “That’s why it’s so frustrating. You guys know me.”

Murray led the way for the Nuggets with 26 points and 9 assists in 38 minutes. He shot 11-of-23 from the field but just 1-of-6 from three, a clutch basket late in the fourth quarter to cut Denver’s deficit to one with 1:38 remaining. unfortunately, Kenrich Williams made a three to extend the lead back to four immediately after. It was a tough game for the Nuggets, with Denver making momentum shifting plays consistently and the Thunder consistently responding. SGA was most responsible there with 34 points on 21 shots. He was fantastic, despite Denver coming up with some stops in the second half to cut into Oklahoma City’s lead.

The Nuggets were without Nikola Jokić (hamstring) and Michael Porter Jr. (personal reasons) tonight. It’s difficult to win without those two in the lineup, but Denver put in a great effort. Zeke Nnaji in particular stepped up in Jokić’s place, achieving the first triple-double of his career with 12 points and 10 rebounds, His switching defense was an important factor for the Nuggets containing the Thunder, and Nnaji added two blocks to boot.

Overall, a tough way for the winning streak to come to an end, but not the worst way possible.

Here are my takeaways from the Nuggets matchup with the Thunder on Sunday evening:

Jamal Murray stepped up big time

The final shot may not have gone in, but don’t let that take away from the fact that Jamal Murray played SGA pretty even. SGA has a case to be an All-Star starter, and without Jokić or Porter on the court, Murray faced a ton of pressure to step up when it mattered.

He did just that, driving hard to the basket, getting up-and-unders to go, hitting fallaways from the mid-range, and also making his teammates better. 26 points and 9 assists compared to just one turnover is a pretty big deal. His defense has improved significantly throughout the year to the point when he was guarding SGA for several possessions tonight toward the end, finding ways to get stops when it mattered.

During his last 10 games, Murray has taken full advantage of Denver’s home heavy schedule, going for 21.6 points, 5.8 assists, and 5.5 rebounds, compared to just 1.8 turnovers per game. He’s shooting 47.9% from the field, 45.9% from three, and 91.4% from the line. This is the version of Murray that opponents fear to death coming off of screens, hand-offs, and attacking in transition.

The final shot didn’t work out tonight, but Murray has found an elite version of himself in the last 10 games overall.

Free Throw Shooting was the biggest issue

It’s no secret that the free throw shooting lost the Nuggets the game tonight. 17-of-33 from the stripe is simply never going to get it done. Missing 16 free throws in a two-point loss is an easily identifiable reason for Denver not scoring 100 points. It’s the third time the Nuggets haven’t hit 100 points this season and the first time at home.

Aaron Gordon in particular had a rough game. He had 15 points and 10 rebounds but shot 4-of-15 from the field and 6-of-13 from the free throw line. The unfortunate factor is that 6-of-13 isn’t that far off from his season long average of shooting 62.6% at the line. it’s perhaps the biggest controllable factor holding Gordon back from being an All-Star.

Nnaji also missed four free throws, though he made the two clutch ones at the 30-second mark. Bruce Brown went 0-of-2 and is now shooting 71.9% at the stripe.

The Nuggets as a team are at 74.2% at the free throw line this year which ranks 27th in the league. It’s a detraction from what has been the most efficient offense in the NBA, and it could absolutely play a part in a key playoff matchup if the Nuggets don’t fix things before then.

The win streak is finally over

Well, after nine games overall and 16 at home, the Nuggets finally saw both streaks snapped at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was a great run, and the Nuggets have truly found their championship form in the last few weeks.

Since December 7th, the day after the Nuggets lost their last game at home, the team is 19-4. They have the best record in the NBA over that span and have played a fantastic brand of basketball on both ends. That isn’t lost on anybody within the Nuggets as they know how much this stretch meant.

Now, it’s on the team to take the show on the road and maintain the same level of focus.

“Just bring the same energy,” Murray articulated to how Denver can bring their home success on the road. “Tim Connelly said something to me in my rookie year. He said, ‘You play a lot better when your teammates know what you’re going to do.'”

Denver’s communication on both ends of the floor has taken a major leap this season. That’s been intentional. It will now be tested.

“I think playing more with each other, building chemistry with eight new teammates, nine new teammates, whatever it is. I think we’ve done a great job of just building, building, building. Even when nights like tonight don’t go our way, we find a way to grow.”

Final Rotations