OKLAHOMA CITY- There were no signs of a post All-Star hangover in Oklahoma City.
Led by an assertive Chris Paul, the Oklahoma City Thunder dominated the Denver Nuggets over the last five and a half minutes of the game to win 113-101.
After a scoreless first quarter, Paul took it upon himself to get things going offensively for the Thunder. By the end of the night, he led all scorers with 29 points on 11-of-17 shooting.
Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan said he credited Paul with analyzing the defense and knowing what needed to be done to attack the Nuggets.
“The one thing about [Paul] is that he’s always challenged himself,” Donovan said.
“He made himself better by recognizing what was going on.”
Paul was again huge for Oklahoma City when it mattered most, with 20 of his points coming in the second half.
“I thought in that third quarter he really started to kind of get into a rhythm,” Donovan said.
Paul said he was just pleased with how his team approached the game.
“I know the guys were hearing me harp on how important these games are coming out of the [All-Star] break,” he said.
“Some teams ease into it, we don’t have that benefit.”
Denver entered the night boasting the second best record in the Western Conference, but it was the Thunder who looked every part of the second seed.
The Nuggets have made their mark with a team-centric approach, but it was Oklahoma City who put in a full-team effort on the night. Seven different Thunder players scored in double digits.
“Our guys did a really, really good job for the full 48 minutes,” Donovan said.
Entering the game, there were questions about how the Thunder would handle the extended time off. Earlier this month, Oklahoma City had four days off before limping into the All-Star break.
Oklahoma City looked crisp from the start, jumping out to a 27-17 lead by the end of the first quarter.
“I felt like maybe a little bit coming out of January with that four day break we exhaled a little bit,” Donovan said.
“We weren’t as sharp as we needed to be.”
Donovan said he structured practice to be more physical leading into the Denver game than he had after the break earlier in the month.
“I give [the team] a lot of credit,” He said. “We course-corrected pretty well.”
Looking back, Donovan said he could have ramped things up earlier in the month and it could have perhaps curtailed the dip in play.
“It was nice,” Paul said. “We had two really good days of practice.”
“Hopefully we can build on this game.”
Oklahoma City not only spread the wealth on the offensive end of the floor, but they also put in a great defensive effort against the explosive Nuggets. The Thunder forced 19 turnovers, cashing them in for 25 points on the other end of the floor.
“I feel like we made them uncomfortable instead of letting them put us on our heels,” Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said after the game.
“We were just the aggressors.”
The Thunder will hope to build on the win against the Nuggets when they return to action on Sunday.
Greg Popovic and the San Antonio Spurs return to town, just weeks removed from their 114-106 win over Oklahoma City.
Tip-off from Chesapeake Energy Arena is scheduled for 6 p.m.
Pre-game coverage from Flint Restaurant will start at 5 p.m. on 107.7 The Franchise.