Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic help Nuggets survive Thunder’s feverish comeback attempt


OKLAHOMA CITY – Jamal Murray’s reverse jam was as jarring as it was impactful.

As the Nuggets sleepwalked into a dangerous fourth quarter against a plucky Thunder team, Murray’s dunk over two Thunder defenders jolted his team awake. And if the sheer act didn’t get them up for the fourth quarter, Murray’s emotional yell afterwards certainly did. The Nuggets survived a feverish comeback from the Thunder on Thursday night, outlasting Oklahoma City, 122- 110, in a test of their resilience.

Not even a blistering 3-point shooting night – the Nuggets shot 18-of-31 from deep – made it easy against a Thunder team that exposed Denver’s weak interior defense. The Thunder blitzed the Nuggets for 72 points inside.

Nikola Jokic made more NBA history, surpassing Wilt Chamberlain for the most triple-doubles by a center. Jokic notched the 79th triple-double of his career, finishing with 15 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists. Murray finished with 24 points, including four 3-pointers. The duo improved Denver’s record to 5-3 on the season with a visit on tap from San Antonio on Saturday.

The Nuggets were paced by Aaron Gordon, who had a team-high 27 points, most of which came in the first half. The majority of Denver’s second-half highlights were reserved for Murray’s heroics.

Neither Bones Hyland (hip strain) nor Ish Smith (calf) were available, throwing Denver’s rotations out of whack. Their depth got even worse when Zeke Nnaji, playing some of his first meaningful minutes of the season, rolled his ankle early in the second quarter and didn’t return.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander turned Denver’s defense into Swiss cheese in the third quarter. Driving lanes were wide enough for semi-trucks, and the Thunder ran layup lines like it was pre-game. The Thunder hung 38 points in the quarter alone and had racked up 62 points in the paint by the end of the frame.

Gilgeous-Alexander finished the night with 37 points.

One silver-lining of the atrocious defense was that it forced Jokic to be more aggressive near the rim. But even he was uncharacteristically sloppy with his passes. One landed in the lap of a Thunder assistant coach. Another kick-started a fastbreak the other direction. The dysfunction bottomed out when the Nuggets got whistled for a five-second violation late in the third quarter. The Thunder erased what had been a 19-point lead and took a 95-93 lead into the fourth.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone reminded his team at shootaround on Thursday how devastating Gilgeous-Alexander could be, comparing his statistical averages to superstars like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Steph Curry and Luka Doncic.

“He’s a load,” Malone said. “No one can guard him one-on-one. Haven’t seen anybody in the NBA be able to do that. It truly takes five guys defending as one.”


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