The Oklahoma City Thunder got off to a hot start on Monday night against the Denver Nuggets, outscoring Denver 32-18 in the first quarter. The Thunder held on to take an eight-point lead into halftime — and then the third quarter happened.
The Nuggets flipped the first quarter script on OKC, taking a 32-18 advantage in the third to build a six-point lead headed into the final 12 minutes of basketball. Based on recent history it felt like a foregone conclusion that Oklahoma City would eventually drop the game to its Northwest Division rival, but Russell Westbrook would have none of that.
Westbrook scored 16 of his season-high 38 points in the fourth quarter, willing the Thunder to victory on a night Paul George and Carmelo Anthony combined for 12 points on 5/19 shooting. It was hardly a picture of how the Thunder would have liked to have played the game, but at this point in the season, a win is a win.
The Thunder moves back to .500 (15-15) with the win and will be back in action on Wednesday night against the Utah Jazz.
Russell Westbrook’s final stat line versus Denver:
38 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, 1 block, 3 turnovers, 16/28 FG, 1/3 3P, 5/7 FT, +13
It was inarguably his best performance in weeks and the win can be attributed solely to his play in the second half. He shot 11/19 after halftime — and although he took some questionable shots and missed a key free throw that gave Denver a chance to win it late — he was as electric as fans have seen him in the 2017-18 season.
Westbrook entered the game shooting 35 percent in the month of December, so tonight’s 57 percent clip was a sight for sore eyes. He was decisive, aggressive and converted some looks in the mid-range. He needs to string a few of these performances together, but for one night he looked like Russell Westbrook of old.
PG & Melo Fall Flat
Weird night for the other members of the OK3. The stat lines for Paul George and Carmelo Anthony:
George: 8 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals, 3/13 FG, 1/6 3P, +4
Anthony: 4 points, 6 rebounds, 2/6 FG, 0/3 3P, +11
George looked lost and discombobulated, again struggling to get anything going offensively. He turned down good looks for contested ones and shot 1/10 on anything that wasn’t a lay-up. He continues to do great things defensively but the struggles on the other end are bizarre. He was ineffective alongside the starters and with the bench unit tonight versus Denver.
On the other hand, Carmelo Anthony had himself a very quiet evening. He only shot the ball six times (only two times after halftime) despite logging 31 minutes of action. In the ongoing quest to find the perfect role for him, his ability to defer and not clog up the Thunder offense was nice to see. Even still — he needs to score more than six points, particularly on nights that only two men reach double-figures for the Thunder.
Win is a Win
The Thunder now rests at 15-15 through 30 games and gets another opportunity to climb above .500 on Wednesday night versus the Jazz. This is hardly where fans would like to see the team, but the 7-3 record in December is third-best in the Western Conference.
While the win tonight versus Denver was much-needed, there isn’t much here that suggests a tremendous amount of progress. The Thunder built a double-digit lead early, melted down in the third quarter and made a few mistakes late that were nearly crippling. Outside of Russell Westbrook’s breakthrough performance, it’s a win — and nothing more than that.
Statistical Oddity. Russell Westbrook’s 38 points were 10 more than the other four starters combined. This is a stat straight out of 2016-17.
Alex Abrines. Alex Abrines was the only other Thunder player to score in double-figures, contributing 11 points on 3/3 shooting from downtown. He was particularly key in the third quarter and hit some big threes that kept the game within reach for OKC.
Dakari. Dakari Johnson made his second consecutive start in the absence of Steven Adams, scoring 8 points on 4/4 shooting in 18 minutes of play. He was cooking out of the gate and made a couple nice plays in transition. He’s not a difference-maker on most nights, but a serviceable replacement when needed.
- Both teams shot 66.7 percent from the free throw line. OKC was 10/15 while Denver was 8/12.
- Denver won 45-40 on the boards
- OKC won 48-43 in the paint
- The Thunder only had 13 assists….and won?
Carmelo Anthony on getting only six shots. Via Royce Young.
Paul George on riding Russell Westbrook to victory. Via Royce Young.