OKC Thunder begin stretch run with a bang: 3 takeaways vs Nuggets

Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets drives against Nerlens Noel #9 of the OKC Thunder (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets drives against Nerlens Noel #9 of the OKC Thunder (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

As the OKC Thunder returned to the hardwood for their first match since the All-Star break they delivered a statement victory over the Denver Nuggets.

It was one of the most satisfying and important wins of the season which was spearheaded as per usual by their veteran Point God Chris Paul.

Moving forward, it’s likely this victory will be revisited for the impact it made in the launch of the Thunder stretch run.

Numerous factors such as individual player performances, team strategies, and execution could be isolated as pivotal to the win. For now, let’s focus on three that dig a little deeper in terms of the effect and timeliness of the win.

Are the Nuggets the new Thunder nemesis?

Hoop heads love a great rivalry. Whether it’s player on player or team versus team. With Russell Westbrook moving to the Rockets several of the previous player rivalry’s have dissipated or traveled with him to Houston.

Sure the OKC Thunder will likely never fully forgive Patrick Beverley for the cheap shot on the Brodie that sent him out of the playoffs. But, there simply isn’t the same angst toward the chippy point guard without Westbrook here to keep the feud fresh.

As for teams, the injured riddled Warriors without Kevin Durant don’t summon the same level of ire either. Likewise, you can also add the Blazers to that list since they aren’t currently on the playoff ladder. Other teams like the Lakers and Clippers had so much roster turnover there hasn’t been time to stoke those enemy fires (at least not yet).

Arguably the Thunder greatest current nemesis is the Denver Nuggets who’ve owned OKC in recent years. Prior to the victory Friday the last time OKC beat Denver was December 18th, 2017. It’s the only win the Thunder has in the past nine meetings. Granted, it might be more accurate to cite the true nemesis as Nikola Jokic.

Despite the loss, the Joker still feasted on the Thunder and is one of the few big men in the NBA who gives Steven Adams and the Thunder team in general fits.

Following that vein, as great as this iteration of the Thunder is, other than the LA clubs the Nuggets are a team the Thunder should try to avoid playing for as long as possible this postseason. They represent the least desirable opponent from a matchup perspective and much of that angst stems from the Joker.

Record making:

With LA’s behemoths, the Jazz 14-1 streak, Nuggets rise to second and Rockets recent small ball emergence the assumption would be one of those clubs is the hottest Western Conference team.  Yet, since a week before Christmas, the team with the best record in the West is none other than the OKC Thunder. The Clutch time crew has won 21 out of 29 games in this period.

This win against the West’s number two seed definitely belongs in the statement win category. As per the first takeaway, while the win was important, to do it so convincingly was equally impressive. Although player shuffles make this squad vastly different than the rosters who lost eight of those nine games it was an important win for the psyche and confidence of the Thunder moving forward.

Thunder Depth:

More from Thunderous Intentions

Following up on the above point… it’s widely believed Denver boasts the deepest club in the association. Yet it was the Thunder who brought balanced scoring and depth to the hardwood Friday – not the Nuggets.

Seven Thunder players scored and registered double-figure efforts. It marked the fifth time this season the club reached that goal. And — yes—that’s a record.

More importantly, the Nuggets had recent absentees Paul Millsap, Jamal Murray, Will Barton, and Michael Porter Jr. all back.

The rust of not playing for a week is a contributing factor. However, the Thunder particularly late looked like the team with the depth.

Again, that’s an important accomplishment that will serve to add confidence and dare I say some swagger to this young Thunder club.

Copious individual performances and isolated plays stand out from the win. But the collective effort and success of the team could provide the greatest advantage to glean from this win.

Next. NBA Power Rankings week 17: Shifts at the break. dark

The Thunder are back in action on Sunday when they’ll play the fourth and final game this season versus the San Antonio Spurs who also collected a big win Friday versus the Jazz.