DENVER — Behind a 26-point effort from Will Barton, the Denver Nuggets nearly rallied in the second half but fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder 96-86. Denver got solid outings from Barton and Jameer Nelson, who backed up Jamal Murray at point guard and scored five points and recorded four assists.
Elsewhere for Denver, Nikola Jokic scored 12 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Paul Millsap struggled to finish with just six points on 2-8 shooting. Gary Harris scored 11 points on 3-11 shooting and Murray registered five points on just 2-8 from the field.
There have been a lot of surprises so far this preseason, but a 39-point first half from one of the best offenses in the league a year ago wasn’t one anyone was expecting. The Nuggets shot just 5-18 in the first quarter and have gone through some growing pains while integrating their offense this season while meshing Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic together. But Denver shot just 32.6 percent from the field in the first half, shot just 2-12 from three and looked hesitant and weren’t playing with a ton of flow.
Russell Westbrook also came to play. The reigning Most Valuable Player tallied 18 first-half points on 8-11 shooting in just 17 minutes. Denver was lucky they Thunder coach Billy Donovan limited Mr. Triple-Double’s minutes in the second half.
Denver didn’t have a great first half on offense, but their defense was solid. Throw out Westbrook’s production (there’s a reason no one can stop him), and the Thunder got most of their buckets on contested jumpers where the Nuggets gave a good contest.
An 11-0 Oklahoma City run to start the third quarter gave off a feel that the Thunder were set to pull away, but a Will Barton and Jameer Nelson-led run brought Denver to within four at the end of the third quarter.
But Barton couldn’t carry Denver all the way back. The Thunder put some more space between themselves and the Nuggets as the fourth quarter progressed and by the five-minute mark of the fourth, Michael Malone had emptied his bench. Overall, a solid defensive performance, but Denver’s offense still has a ways to go.
The Nuggets shot just 34 percent from the field and 11-33 (33.3 percent from three)