Oklahoma City's eight players were dead tired. Denver started to hit shots. The Thunder's 20-point fourth-quarter lead was slip-sliding away.
Grasping to a three-point lead with just 2:30 to play, it looked like the Nuggets might have too much for the catastrophically-depleted Thunder. But back to back 3-pointers from Serge Ibaka and Perry Jones helped OKC hang on to win its first game of the season, 102-91.
It looked too easy early on. The Thunder exploded for 29 first-quarter points and led by 12 after one. In what looked like an instant replay, the Thunder's high-energy attack helped them outscore Denver by 10 in the second and take a 55-33 lead into the break.
Denver's energy picked up in the third. The Nuggets outscored OKC 23-21 but still trailed by 20 heading into the final quarter. But that's when things took a U-turn.
The Nuggets stormed out with a quick 8-0 run to begin the fourth quarter. The Thunder looked tired and Denver clearly had a heightened sense of urgency. OKC held a 14-point lead with six minutes to play when the Nuggets took off on another run. Ty Lawson's five points led an 11-0 surge that brought Denver back within three at 88-85, but this was the Thunder's night.
Ibaka nailed a 3-ball to stop the bleeding, then with 1:46 to play and a four-point lead, Jones heaved up a prayer with just a second left on the shot clock and buried it.
Jones and Ibaka each scored 23 to lead the offensive attack, while Kendrick Perkins played his best game as a member of the Thunder. Perk finished with 17 points on 6 of 7 shooting and grabbed five rebounds in 20 minutes.
“We're all one family, no matter if we've got five players, eight players or 15 players,” Perkins told the television broadcast afterward. “We just wanted to win tonight and everybody came out and gave a great team effort.”
The Nuggets had 12 players score – four more than the Thunder had available to play. Ty Lawson's 25 points and five assists led the way while Arron Afflalo chipped in 14. Only three Nuggets finished in double-figures.
The Thunder (1-2) is back at it on Monday night at Toronto.