Published April 05, 2011
Russell Westbrook added 18 points and James Harden 13 as the Thunder all but secured home-court advantage in the first round of the NBA playoffs, building a four-game lead over the Nuggets with five games left, including a rematch Friday night in Oklahoma City.
This was the first win by the Thunder in Denver since the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City in the beginning of the 2008-09 season. The franchise had lost seven straight games in Denver by an average of 19.3 points, its last win here coming on March 28, 2007.
Ty Lawson's 28 points led the Nuggets, who fell for just the fifth time in 20 games since their Feb. 22 blockbuster trade of Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups reshaped their roster into a bunch of hardworking, team-first players that has rejuvenated a city, a fan base and coach George Karl.
The Nuggets had been 10-0 at home since sending their All-Star scorer to Madison Square Garden in a trade that brought them five new players and some draft picks.
The Thunder took control with an 16-0 run early in the fourth quarter that turned a 72-69 deficit into an 85-72 cushion. Serge Ibaka and Eric Maynor started the spurt with three points each and Durant capped the decisive burst with an alley-oop dunk and two free throws.
Westbrook hit a bucket and two free throws in the final minute to fend off Denver's furious rally, and things got chippy when Durant and Danilo Gallinari (17 points) were whistled for a double technical with 12 seconds left.
The Nuggets lost center Timofey Mozgov, one of the players who came over from New York in the 'Melo trade, to a sprained left knee and ankle late in the first quarter. Mozgov got hurt when Nick Collison was knocked into him in the first quarter.
Mozgov cut into the lane from the right corner, took a pass from Kenyon Martin and was about to go up for the basket when Collison crashed into him while drawing the charge from Martin. He was helped off the court, hopping until he reached the tunnel to the locker room, where he grimaced as he tried to put weight on his injured leg.
The athletic 7-foot-1 center had logged meaningful minutes in Denver's 95-90 statement win over the Lakers in Los Angeles on Sunday.
The Nuggets trailed 23-14 when Mozgov hobbled off and would fall behind by 13 before chipping away and pulling to 48-47 at the break on the strength of an 18-7 run that included several lay-ups by Lawson.
Denver took its first lead at 59-58 on Nene's breakaway rim-rattler, but the Nuggets missed eight of 15 free throws in the third quarter and trailed 69-67 heading into the fourth quarter.
Notes: Nuggets G Aaron Afflalo sat out Tuesday night and will also miss Wednesday night's game at Dallas in hopes he can return strong for the playoffs. Afflalo has missed nine of Denver's past 11 games with a strained left hamstring. ... Denver's Chris "Birdman" Andersen (ankle) also sat out. ... The Thunder allowed just two points in the paint in the third quarter. ... Kendrick Perkins collected 14 rebounds, 13 off the defensive glass as the Thunder outscored the Nuggets 14-8 on second-chance points.