The Nuggets couldn’t buy a bucket with Jeff Bezos’ credit card. And Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander? The kid was simply too much money from start to finish.
The Oklahoma City guard finished with a game-high 29 points to pace the lowly Thunder to an oddly comfortable 119-107 win over the Nuggets in the first of a four-game homestand at Ball Arena.
“(That) performance was unacceptable,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone groused after his squad surrendered 16 makes on 29 Thunder 3-point tries, four of those makes by former Nebraska forward Isaiah Roby.
“I don’t give an (expletive) about the offense. That kind of defense (was) embarrassing. The effort that was put forth (was) embarrassing.”
Nuggets All-Star Nikola Jokic finished with 22 points and 16 rebounds for the hosts, but he got no help from his fellow starters.
Bones Hyland and Bryn Forbes chipped in 19 and 18 points, respectively, off the bench in what was otherwise an off night for the Denver backcourt.
The hosts shot a combined — and unsightly — 12 for 46 (26.1%) from beyond the arc. Will Barton (0 for 9), Aaron Gordon (1-7) and Monte Morris (0-4) wound up a combined 1 for 20 on treys.
The basketball gods continued to vex Barton, who went into the night needing just one trey to tie the all-time Nuggets record for 3-pointers in a Denver uniform (768).
The 6-foot-5 swingman made good on just one for his first 10 shots on the evening, finishing with six points. Barton had been 0-5 on treys in Portland last Sunday and finished the game a 3-pointer short of the career mark.
Malone cited some carry-over from what he termed as an “awful” practice on Tuesday.
“We don’t usually practice and we had practice,” Forbes observed. “I think that was maybe what was tough about it.”
A funky night saw the Nuggets continue a theme from this past Sunday’s rout of Portland — namely, with the Denver bench riding to the rescue.
Good thing, too, because the underdog Thunder, who came in with a 19-42 record, outscored a set of lethargic, hurried-shooting Denver starters by a 23-12 margin to open the third quarter.
Gilgeous-Alexander’s runner with 4:47 to go in the frame gave OKC a 78-69 lead and necessitated Malone’s second timeout of the stanza. The visitors took an 86-79 cushion into the start of the fourth quarter thanks to a nine-point third stanza by Roby and the Thunder nailing seven of 11 tries from beyond the arc to open the quarter.
The first half belonged to Jokic and the Nuggets’ bench mob. Paced by eight points from Hyland and another seven from Austin Rivers, the Denver reserves stomped their counterparts from Oklahoma City 29-12 on the scoreboard in the opening two quarters.
“I think we just all like playing with each other, honestly,” Hyland said. “(There’s) a lot of ball movement, a lot of (trusting) each other. We know that each and every one of us can make the play.”
That the hosts only took a 57-55 lead into halftime, though, tells you how much Malone’s starters struggled to find a flow. Or a pulse.
The Nuggets’ non-Jokic opening five shot a combined 5 for 19 from the floor over the first 24 minutes of the contest. And three of those makes came from veteran forward Jeff Green (eight points), thanks to a pair of thunderous dunks.
In their first action since Sunday, the hosts struggled to shake off the cobwebs early, misfiring on their first five attempts from the floor while the Thunder made good on four of their first six, opening the tilt with a 9-2 cushion. A peeved Malone responded with a timeout at the 8:52 mark of the opening quarter.
Jokic came out of the break with two quick makes, but the Thunder continued to try and double-team the Nuggets’ All-Star into mistakes with the rock. An errant Joker pass out one of those OKC sandwiches led to a Thunder steal and a fast-break dunk by Darius Beazley with 3:06 left in the first that put the visitors up 19-12, forcing another Malone timeout.
The coach essentially made a line change at that point. Hyland netted eight points and DeMarcus Cousins added another bucket to key a 12-5 Nuggets run to close the stanza and knot the game at 24-all.