The Denver Nuggets announced that they would be without three starters on Monday afternoon. Guards Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, in addition to forward Will Barton, were all out with injuries.
This seemed like good news for the Oklahoma City Thunder, who would be without guards Dennis Schroder and Terrance Ferguson. Unlike Saturday against the Jazz, Monday’s game could have gone either way.
First Takeaway: Two Missed Free Throws Didn’t Determine The Outcome
Despite Denver’s injuries, Nikola Jokic was still very healthy. Jokic is the literal and figurative center of Denver’s offense. He’s a triple-double threat any time he steps on a court.
If Jokic doesn’t score inside, he’ll drag bigger defenders to the perimeter where he can either knock down an outside shot or find one of his teammates backcutting to the basket. Jokic did plenty of the latter on Monday.
Jokic found spot starter Michael Porter Jr., who wound up having the game of his young NBA career (37 points, 12/16 field goals, 12 rebounds).
Denver’s Paul Millsap committed two questionable fouls late in the fourth quarter. He first hacked Shai Gilgeous-Alexander while he made a running jumper with 1:10 to go. The shot gave the Thunder a three-point lead, but SGA missed the free throw.
With the Nuggets up one, Millsap then bumped Chris Paul with 2.9 seconds left. Paul surprisingly missed the first free throw but made the second to force overtime.
That’s all Jokic needed because he owned overtime. He scored Denver’s first eight of 10 points in the extra period and he got his triple-double after all (30 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists).
The Thunder lost not because of two free throws. They lost because they couldn’t keep up with Denver’s two rare, multi-dimensional talents.
Second Takeaway: The Thunder Bench Stepped Up
When you face a team like the Denver Nuggets, you better be ready to get physical and box out. Hamidou Diallo did just that, grabbing seven boards in his first 13 minutes off the bench. Abdel Nader’s number was called and scored 13 points in 13 minutes of his own.
Confidence isn’t something that can always be quantified by looking at a box score, but Darius Bazley appears to be playing with more confidence in the Orlando bubble. Bazley chipped in with 10 points and two made 3-pointers Saturday against the Jazz. Early in the second quarter of Monday’s game, with the shot clock winding under five seconds, Bazley stepped back and canned a three. That had to feel good.
Contributions like these were critical for Oklahoma City in a game where it knew it would be without Schroder coming off the pine.
Third Takeaway: Did You Forget About Chris Paul?
Gilgeous-Alexander’s star continues to shine. Opposing defenses’ top priority becomes cutting off SGA’s driving lanes and getting him into foul trouble, which the Nuggets did (SGA committed five personal fouls by the 6:51 mark of the third quarter). This is the part where Paul reminds everyone, at 35, he can still get buckets in bunches.
Paul served in a similar role when he teamed up with James Harden and the Houston Rockets from 2017-2019. Defenses threw the book at Harden. Paul feasted with his mid-range game.
As Gilgeous-Alexander watched, CP3 was the team’s steadying force, making seven of 13 shots for 19 points through the game’s first three quarters.
When he returned early in the fourth quarter, SGA gave the offense a lift, scoring 14 of his 24 points in the final period.
There are other positives from Monday. Schroder will be a father for the second time. NBA coaches voted Billy Donovan as co-Coach of the Year with Milwaukee’s Mike Budenholzer.
Donovan and his experienced staff will be tasked with mapping out a winning game plan when the Thunder play the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.