Jokic, Nuggets shock Thunder for second-straight win

Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (12) defends against Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) in the second quarter at the Pepsi Center.
Dec 14, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (12) defends against Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) in the second quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

In a battle of teams at the top of the Western Conference standings, the Denver Nuggets walked away victorious Friday night with a 109-98 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The win was the Nuggets 10th in their last 11 games and pushed their record to 19-9 on the season. With the win, Denver stays atop the Western Conference standings and now sit a game and a half clear of the Thunder. It was also the second time the Nuggets have beat the Thunder this season after they won 105-98 just a couple weeks ago in Oklahoma City.

The game started with extreme pace as both teams scored the ball with ease to start the night. Before the game could even hit the eight minute mark of the first quarter, the Nuggets already led 15-10 because of some hot shooting by Torrey Craig. Courtesy of some great ball movement by Nikola Jokic, Craig drilled an open three in route to a personal 5-0 run that really set the tone for Denver’s offense. Craig would end up hitting another three just a few possessions later as the Nuggets were able to jump out to a 20-12 lead with 6:27 left in the first quarter.

Denver’s offense continued to play at a high level for the rest of the opening quarter, but one thing the Nuggets did struggle with was trying to defend Steven Adams. The Thunder big man opened the game with 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field and was completely having his way in the post. Still, the Nuggets were able to maintain control of the game to give them a 39-32 lead at the end of the first.

The Nuggets big first quarter was in large part to Jokic (12) and Craig (11) combining to score over half of Denver’s points in the opening period. It was not just them though as the Nuggets as a team shot 14-of-23 from the field and 7-of-10 from three-point range in the games first 12 minutes.

Denver carried that momentum into the second quarter as Monte Morris and newly acquired Nick Young hit some big three-pointers to stretch the Nuggets lead out to double-digits. Morris hit two three-pointers in the opening minutes of the quarter before Young hit his first three as a Nugget’ to give Denver a 47-35 lead with 8:48 left in the second quarter.

Oklahoma City would quickly answer with a 6-0 run to cut Denver’s lead back down to six before the Nuggets offense went to work again. Led by Jokic, the Nuggets answered with a 6-0 run of their own to stretch their lead back up to 12 points with just under five minutes remaining in the quarter. After some back and fourth minutes to close the half, Oklahoma City would ultimately cut the Nuggets lead back to singe digits as Denver would take a 60-52 lead into the halftime locker room.

At the break, the Nuggets were led by Jokic who had 16 points, five rebounds, and four assists in his 18 first half minutes. Other notable stat lines came from Morris, who finished with 10 first half points to go along with three assists. Craig also had a good first half with 11 points on an almost perfect 4-of-5 shooting from the field. As a team, the Nuggets shot 23-of-43 from the field of 9-of-22 from three-point range in the games first two quarters.

Even though the Nuggets held the lead and were scoring efficiently after two quarters, they still had to find a way to stop Adams in the second half. Adams finished the first half with 17 points and nine rebounds, with eight of those rebounds coming offensively. If the Nuggets were going to walk away victorious, they had to find a way to slow him down in the second half scoring the basketball and especially on the boards.

Denver still had no answer for Adams though as he made two lay ups and collected his ninth offensive rebound just minutes in the third quarter. That allowed Oklahoma City to cut Denver’s lead to 60-57 with just under nine minutes remaining in the period as the Nuggets had suddenly gone cold offensively. After not scoring for over four minutes, the Nuggets were finally able to get their first bucket of the third quarter courtesy of a great pass by Jokic that led to an easy dunk for Craig.

That was just the start of some incredible passes made by Jokic in the third quarter as the Nuggets still held onto a 75-71 lead with 2:31 remaining in the third quarter. Denver would increase that lead by one to close the quarter as the Nuggets took a 82-76 lead into the final period of play. The Nuggets were led in the third quarter by Jokic as he already had 24 points, 14 rebounds, and six assists going into the fourth.

Coming into the final period just four assists shy of yet another triple-double, the Nuggets needed yet another big quarter from Jokic if they were going to walk away with a big time Western Conference victory. With Jokic on the bench to start the quarter the Nuggets second unit had to find a way to keep Denver in the game with their big man off the floor.

The second unit would do just that as a tremendous chase down block by Mason Plumlee led to an easy basket for the Nuggets in transition to keep all the momentum on Denver’s side. That was just the start of it though as Young hit a big three-pointer a few possessions later to give the Nuggets a nine-point lead with 7:30 remaining in the game.

That three-pointer would put the Pepsi Center crowd in a frenzy as the Nuggets controlled all the momentum with just over six minutes left in the quarter. Oklahoma City was not done fighting though as they went on a 6-0 run to cut the Nuggets lead to three with 3:10 remaining in the game. Like they had done all night, the Nuggets quickly answered though with a 4-0 run of their own to stretch their lead back up to seven with two minutes left. That run would ultimately seal the win for Denver as he Nuggets controlled the pace-of-play to finish the game to give them a 109-98 victory over Oklahoma City.

Stat leaders for the Nuggets were Jokic, who finished just shy of a triple-double with 24 points, 15 rebounds, and nine assists. Jokic did all that on an efficient 8-of-16 shooting from the field, while also going 2-of-4 from three-point range. It was not just Jokic who had double-digit point totals though as Craig (15), Morris (14), Jamal Murray (19), and Juancho Hernangomez (16) all had good nights scoring the basketball to help prevail Denver to victory.

The Nuggets now have a day off tomorrow before they are back in action Sunday at home to face the Toronto Raptors. It will already be the Nuggets second matchup of the season against the Eastern Conference’s first place team as Denver beat Toronto 106-103 just a few weeks ago.