The Denver Nuggets have struggled against the Oklahoma City Thunder this season and almost fell short once again against them on Saturday night but they managed to even the series at 2-2 after a hard fought 113-107 win. Nikola Jokic led the way in typical fashion with 35 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.
“It’s funny because I’ll read the post game notes and there’s so many things that say, ‘reigning MVP leads the league in this category,’” head coach Michael Malone said. “He leads the league in triple-doubles, he leads the league in double-doubles and you almost start to assume the greatness will be there every night and I really try to challenge myself to stay away from that because Nikola’s consistency should never be taken for granted. It should be marveled at every single night because that’s what separates him from everybody else.”
The Nuggets led by as many as 16 points until the Thunder closed the second quarter and opened the third on a 17-2 combined run. They ended up scoring 58 second half points and took a two-point lead with just under three minutes left to go in regulation. Denver refused to go down without a fight and closed the fourth quarter on a 10-2 run to win it.
“I loved how we closed,” Malone said. “For whatever reason this team, every time we play them, no matter who plays for them it seems like it’s the same story every night. We got up by as many as 16 points tonight and then we allowed them to go on big runs… we won the game which is really important with seven games to go but we have to be a lot more consistent with our effort, our energy, our urgency and our discipline.”
Malone was also impressed with Monte Morris’ clutch plays on both ends of the floor with one minute left in the game. OKC ran a high pick and roll and they threw the lob pass to the roller. Morris stole the ball and hit a 3-pointer at the other end to give Denver a big enough lead that Oklahoma City just couldn’t come back from.
“He won us the game,” Jokic said of Morris. “I think he plays the whole season really good. I really like to have him and he’s the guy who’s not going to make mistakes, who is caring, who is paying attention, who is locked in when he needs to be and he’s trying. I can’t ask anything more from the guy.”
Morris finished the night with just seven points and five assists but scored when it mattered most. Aaron Gordon put up 20 points and nine rebounds while Will Barton added 18 points, six rebounds and seven assists. It was an all around solid performance by the Nuggets’ starters.
Denver did have an off shooting night from beyond the arc, going 8 of 31 but it was its free throws that kept them on top for most of the game. The Nuggets went 23 of 24 from the free throw line and 9 of 9 in the fourth quarter. Jokic went 9 of 10 from that range.
The Nuggets have seven games left of the regular season and are currently sitting in sixth place in the Western Conference standings with a 44-31 record. They’re one game in front of the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team they’re going to face this upcoming Friday at home. They have two games on the road before that, the first one at Charlotte on Monday night and the next one at Indiana on Wednesday night. Every game matters now and Denver must win in order to avoid the play-in tournament.