Nuggets shrug off furious Thunder comeback in instant classic fashion

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 1: Gary Harris #14 of the Denver Nuggets shoots the ball to win the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on February 1, 2018 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)
Nuggets shrug off furious Thunder comeback in instant classic fashion

When an instant classic goes down such as it did Thursday night between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Denver Nuggets, it’s close to impossible to figure out where to start.

The obvious place to begin would be the end: with Garry Harris, the Nuggets guard who got off a damn-near wide open shot on the final possession of the game. You could also point to Nikola Jokic’s incredible inbounds pass…or even the fact that, yep, he probably traveled. Regardless, it was an incredible find, and the NBA isn’t known for its stringency on the subject of traveling.

Or, you could focus on the fact that Russell Westbrook lost his man, who was on the three-point line, as he had so often on the night. I personally counted at least four times where Westbrook lost Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray on the perimeter.

I’m unsure if Westbrook was trying to defend a lob, grab the final rebound that he needed to secure a triple-double, or something else on the final play  — regardless of what the issue was, it’s inexcusable.

Never mind the fact that Wilson Chandler bowled Jerami Grant over on the play — referees are understandably hesitant to decide the game on something like an off-ball charge. It’s simply not going to happen.

Watch the game-winning three-pointer from Nuggets guard Gary Harris:


Or, alternatively, you could focus on the positive (if you’re a Thunder fan): Paul George played his best game (43 points, five rebounds, five assists) in a Thunder uniform yet, transforming from the passive PG who took zero combined shots in the prior two fourth quarter into a fire-breathing, vintage George who takes and makes big shots — Gatorade PG, if you will. George was also about as efficient as you can get, shooting 19-26 on the night.

Funnily enough, for all of George’s aggression, he still managed zero foul shots — something that hasn’t been done with that high of a scoring effort since 2003.

I’ve already exhausted approximately one-third of my space here, and I haven’t even mentioned the single weirdest thing that happened last night: Westbrook’s altercation with a fan who, in my highly amateur opinion, who was perhaps a bit over-served by the Pepsi Center staff.

Malice in the Palace this is not, but it will still be highly scrutinized by the league. As of writing, no punishment has been handed down by the league. Considering the circumstances — the fan was clearly not where he was supposed to be (and thus in violation of NBA rules), and there seemed to be an antagonistic flavor to his behavior — a lesser punishment (i.e. a fine, not a suspension) is warranted, but the league may choose to make an example of Westbrook.

From the jump, it was reminiscent of a game the Thunder would have played in November or December: a lackadaisical shot selection, little-to-no lateral ball movement, and poor perimeter defense amounted to a huge Nuggets lead in the first three quarters.

The halftime score — Nuggets 72, Thunder 57 — indicated a blowout in the making, and the lead even ballooned to 20 at one point.

It seemed as though Billy Donovan was throwing in the towel by leaving the all-bench lineup out for longer than normal in the fourth, and it would have made sense: the Thunder have had a rough schedule in terms of travel, and they play three of the next five nights.

But the bench mob of Raymond Felton, Jerami Grant, Patrick Patterson (and co.) brought the game into reach. Soon, the 15 point lead the Nuggets had built going into the fourth quarter was down to just six.

That furious comeback culminated with a George stepback three-pointer that would’ve sent the game to overtime if not for the aforementioned heroics of Jokic and Harris.

This is how divisional games often go for the Thunder — especially in one as tough as the Northwest division. Based on Jokic’s comments after the game (“I think Russell fell asleep…”), and knowing Westbrook’s elephant-esque memory, the next Thunder/Nuggets matchup in March should be vitriolic to say the least.

The Thunder fall to 30-22, while the Nuggets improve to 27-25 — now just three games behind the Thunder in the Western Conference and Northwest divisional standings.

The Thunder play the short-handed Pelicans tonight at 8:00 P.M. at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.

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