The Pepsi Center was rocking as Emmanuel Mudiay played hero for the Denver Nuggets in their 102-94 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night.
The Thunder came to Denver looking for their first Western Conference victory of the season, and they left still searching. A back and fourth affair ended with arguably the Nuggets best win of the season. The two teams traded leads for three quarters and the game was tied at 75 at the end of the third. The Nuggets would outscore the Thunder 27-19 in the fourth quarter and were led by bench players Emmanuel Mudiay and Mason Plumlee.
Bench points were big Thursday night as the Nuggets outscored the Thunder bench 49 to 27. Denver’s bench was led by Mason Plumlee and star of the game Emmanuel Mudiay. Plumlee did a great job filling in for Nikola Jokic, who had three fouls near the end of the second quarter. Plumlee played 25 minutes and scored 13 points, grabbed four rebounds, and had one block. The block Plumlee had was on Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, who thought he had the pull up jumper till Plumlee had a great close-out and stuffed Westbrook near the free-throw line.
Mudiay was the star of the night and led the Nuggets with 21 points on an efficient 8-10 from the field, 4-4 from behind the three-point line. Mudiay also contributed 7 rebounds, five assists, and had the Nuggets second highest +/- ratio on the night with a +17. When Mudiay plays care free and loose, he’s one of the best players on the court. Mudiay played 30 minutes, which is 12 more than starter Jamal Murray played, and 18 of those 30 minutes came during a stretch that lasted from the middle of the first quarter all the way till halftime. Mudiay was one of the best players on the court Thursday night and outplayed reigning MVP Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook had a rough night and scored only 13 points on 6-22 shooting. Westbrook was just 1-6 from three and was 0-3 from the free-throw stripe. Nuggets guard Gary Harris did a great job defending Westrbook all night and was one of the Nuggets silent stars in the win. Harris was harassing Westbrook on defense all night and made life troublesome for the reigning MVP.
Carmelo Anthony was the Thunder’s best player on Thursday night and scored a team high 28 points on 10-20 shooting, 6-10 from the three-point line. The boo’s rained down from the Pepsi Center crowd all night, but those seemed to just fuel Anthony even more. The Nuggets were forcing tough shots for Anthony all night, but he was consistency nailing shots with a hand in his face. As for Paul George, he was mostly held in check and only scored 13 points on 6-14 shooting. The Thunder’s big three were all averaging 20.1 points per game going into their match-up with the Nuggets, and the Nuggets held two of their stars to seven points below their season average. The defensive effort was great all night and was one of the big reasons the Nuggets prevailed and got the win.
The Nuggets had six players who finished in double-figures, Mudiay (21), Paul Millsap (17), Jokic (15), Plumlee (13), Will Barton (13), and Gary Harris (10), and only used a nine-man rotation. That nine-man rotation included everyone mentioned above, as well as Wilson Chandler, Jamal Murray, and Malik Beasley (notice no Kenneth Faried). No Faried was probably just based on the match-up, but its something to keep an eye on moving forward.
One of the best parts of the Nuggets victory on Thursday night was the fact that it was a nationally televised game. This was the first of nine nationally televised games for the Nuggets this season ,and they certainly didn’t disappoint. The Nuggets showcased their free-flowing offense and had 27 assists on 38 made baskets. Millsap was tied for the team lead in assists with five and also contributed six blocks on the defensive end of the court. Nikola Jokic led the team in rebounds with 11.
With the win over the Thunder, the Nuggets are now 7-5 on the season and are 4-1 on their current six-game home stand. A home stand that has only suffered one loss at the hand of the Golden State Warriors, will end on Saturday night against the Orlando Magic. A 5-1 home stand would be a major step in the right direction and would be a huge boost for the team going forward. Thursday night’s win marked a big first step in the Nuggets finally becoming the team they want to be. Close games, against good opponents, were games that last seasons Nuggets team might not have won, but this team seems to have a different mind set.