Grading Thunder Players in Thursday’s Loss to the Nuggets

The Thunder’s four-game winning streak ended last night after a 122-110 loss to the Denver Nuggets at the Paycom Center. The loss dropped the Thunder back to .500 as they prepare to go on a two-game road trip that begins in Milwaukee on Saturday night. Coming into the game, OKC was only allowing opponents to shoot 32 percent from the perimeter. However, Denver torched the nets from downtown on Thursday night, making 58 percent of shots behind the arc and outscoring the Thunder on three-pointers 54 to 18.

Despite the final score, there were several positive takeaways from the Thunder’s performance. Fans probably didn’t think this would be the case after the Thunder quickly fell behind 13-0 during the first three minutes of the game. The Nuggets led by as many as 19 points during the second quarter and went into the locker room for halftime with a 14-point lead.

The Thunder stormed back in the second half with an 18-6 run and took the lead for the first time on an Aleksej Pokusevski layup with 1:20 left to go in the third quarter. They carried the advantage into the fourth quarter but were outscored by Denver 29-15 in the final twelve minutes.

Although Thursday night represented the Thunder’s largest deficit of defeat so far in the young season, Thunder fans should walk away feeling good about their team’s performance. They were competitive against a Western Conference contender led by the two-time reigning MVP in Nikola Jokic.

Once again, SGA played like an All-NBA level player on the verge of his first All-Star selection. The Thunder dominated in the paint and turned the ball over ten times less than the Nuggets. If they can get back to defending three-pointers at a higher clip (as they were before Thursday’s game), they should be back in the win column soon.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – A

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continues to dazzle and impress. He scored 37 points on only 17 shots and without attempting a single three-pointer. He was a perfect 11-11 from the line and has still only missed one free throw the entire year. He built on a strong defensive start to the season by adding in two steals. Currently, he’s tied with the Hawks Dejounte Murray for the third most steals per game of any player in the league.

After the game, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone called Shai “unguardable.” He did have four turnovers last night, but one of them was on a questionable offensive foul at the beginning of the third quarter. Immediately after the call, SGA snagged a rebound off a missed Michael Porter Jr three-pointer and proceeded to put MPJ on a poster at the other end of the court.

Josh Giddey – B+

This was Josh Giddey’s second game back from his ankle injury and he seemed a little more like himself. An interesting note is that Mark Daigneault was not staggering Giddey and SGA in the same way that he did Tuesday night. They spent much more time playing together on Thursday night. Giddey scored 16 points on 50 percent shooting with five assists and a steal.

He provided a quick spark when he re-entered the game with 4:24 left in the second quarter, scoring the Thunder’s next two baskets. He also drained two three-pointers during the Thunder’s third-quarter run.

Lu Dort – B

Lu Dort started the season slowly on offense but seems to have come out of his funk. He scored 19 points last night and made seven of ten shots from inside the three-point line. He also grabbed three rebounds and added one assist, one steal, and one block to his stat line. He was matched up with Jamal Murray most of the time when he was on the court and did a good job of keeping him contained until the fourth quarter. As anyone who watched Murray in the bubble knows, he can get hot quickly and score on whoever he wants.

Aleksej Pokusevski – B-

Poku has been plenty of fun to watch this year. There were moments in the first half that was rough for him on defense, and many of Aaron Gordon’s first-half buckets came at Poku’s expense. Poku also missed four three-pointers and shot only 33% on the night.

However, he frequently played the role of a disrupter. He blocked multiple shots through the game and dove for a loose ball during the second quarter that turned into a Thunder steal and a Lu Dort dunk. He also had a great behind-the-back pass to a cutting Jalen Williams for an assist during the second quarter.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl – C+

It’s difficult to be too hard on JRE after last night. For starters, yesterday was his 22nd birthday. Also, he spent most of his time on the floor guarding Nikola Jokic, who passed Wilt Chamberlain last night for the most career triple-doubles by a center.

JRE scored 10 points, including two three-pointers, and snagged seven rebounds during his 23 minutes of action. However, he was benched to start the second half as Coach Daigneault tried a different defensive look on Jokic and Aaron Gordon. He played only seven minutes after halftime and scored two points during that time.

Best Thunder Bench Player – Kenrich Williams

Each of the younger players provided some fun moments throughout the game, but Kenrich deserves the title of the Thunder’s best bench player. He scored five points and added in six rebounds, one assist, and one steal.

This strong performance comes after a DNP-CD on Tuesday night. Kenrich is a great steadying presence off the bench for the Thunder and it’s nice to know that he’s always ready to go when called upon

Best Player for the Other Team – Nikola Jokic

Aaron Gordon and Jamal Murray could each make their case for this award. Gordon looked unguardable in the first quarter after scoring 15 points with three three-pointers. Jamal Murray scored 14 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter and helped Denver settle down after the Thunder’s strong third-quarter run.

As great as each of those two players was, it’s hard to ignore the impact Nikola Jokic has on the game whenever he’s in. He only scored two points in the first half, but he secured nine rebounds and was constantly setting up teammates for shots.

As a team, Denver had thirteen more assists than the Thunder, and Jokic is one of the main reasons why they are such a great passing team.

Many of Denver’s made three-pointers came after incredible passes from Jokic. He did have 10 turnovers last night seven of which were during the Thunder’s third-quarter run. However, he settled down in the fourth quarter with five points, three assists, and only one turnover.