Good, bad, ugly: Nuggets win over Thunder has Denver looking like a legitimate contender

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) reacts as he comes off the court in the fourth quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Pepsi Center.
Feb 26, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) reacts as he comes off the court in the fourth quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets are coming off of a convincing win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday which was their fourth-straight win. The Nuggets have been playing some of their best basketball of the season lately, but Tuesday’s game was an entirely different monster.

The Nuggets welcomed in Northwest division rival Oklahoma City Thunder to the Pepsi Center in a meaningful bout between the two of the Western Conference’s top-three seeds with plenty of playoff implications at stake.

Denver never wavered and fought from buzzer to buzzer to secure arguably their best win of the entire season. Both teams put on quite a show for the national audience, but Denver came away victorious with a 121-112 victory. With that I give you the good, bad and ugly.

Good – Home court dominance continues

The Nuggets went into their battle the Thunder sporting the best home record in the NBA. Once the final buzzer sounded, the Nuggets still had the best home record in the NBA.

Denver is now 27-4 at home and have won nine-straight games at the Pepsi Center.

On a nationally televised game, it was the Nuggets that showed that they would not back down in one of the more intense games of the 2018-19 NBA season so far.

The Nuggets got it done on both ends of the floor and were led by multiple players in major ways. Nikola Jokic looked like the best player on the floor. He was just a rebound shy of a triple-double as he finished with 36 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists. Will Barton looked like himself tonight. He played with flare and was able to finally get going offensively as he put up 23 points. Jamal Murray had 20 points and hit some timely shots including knocking down four 3-pointers. Paul Millsap was one of the most important parts of the win. He was the difference maker on both ends of the floor with help-side defense and he finished with two steals and a block. He also was able to score 12 points and had 10 game-changing rebounds

Bad – Defending Russell Westbrook and Paul George

Yes, it seems impossible, but Denver has been one of the few teams that has been able to slow down Westbrook and George this year.

Denver has bottled things in the middle and pushed them to do their work on the perimeter. That scheme worked well as both struggled mightily when shooting the ball from deep against the Nuggets.

Torrey Craig has been a player that has been known to slow down Westbrook for the Nuggets, but as Denver continues to get healthier, his role has been minimized. Malik Beasley and Will Barton started the game for Denver and were was tasked with defending this dynamic duo.

At the half, it looked as if the Nuggets had the formula for Westbrook and George yet again as the two combined for only 17 points on 7-19 shooting. Denver was forcing them to shoot from beyond the arc where they went a combined 0-8 from beyond the arc and made things uncomfortable.

As expected, George and Westbrook got going in the second half and made things uncomfortable for Denver. In the second half, the two Thunder stars combined for 30 points on 8-20 shooting. They also started to get hot from deep as they combined for five 3-pointers in the half as well.

Denver had the formula early on and were able to slow them down for a bit, but ended up releasing that pressure and gave George and Westbrook a chance to get back into the game. Denver must buckle down for all four quarters if they want to reach their ceiling.

Ugly – The Nuggets are still fighting for national respect

There was a lapse at the end of the third quarter that also bled into the start of the fourth quarter when Denver lost their lead and were suddenly in the danger zone, but they persevered.

With that being said, the only tragedy in this game was that it was not a playoff game.

The atmosphere was perfect, the stakes were high and Denver proved exactly why they should be in the conversation as a contender. Denver has had many doubters and have done their best of silencing the critics with their play. Tuesday’s game was just another notch on their belt. They made big stops on defense, weathered the storm and got big contributions from multiple players on a national stage.

Jokic should be regarded as an MVP candidate and the addition of Millsap was finally noticed; he might have been the biggest difference maker in the game on both ends of the floor and is stepping up at the right time.

Denver is head and shoulders a better team than last year and the play-in game that they lost against the Minnesota Timberwolves last season has motivated them to reach new heights this season. That fact has been evident all season long and was on full display when Denver beat a very talented Thunder team on Tuesday.

The doubters are going to continue to doubt and Denver will continue being the team that they have been all season long. Nonetheless, this win gave fans a glimpse of something they have not felt in a long time and the playoffs could not come any sooner.