By Michael Kinney
The Oklahoma City Thunder dropped their first official game of the NBA restart Monday afternoon when they took on the Denver Nuggets. After leading for much of the contests, the Thunder fell 121-113 in overtime at the Walter Disney Resort in Orlando.
After going 3-0 during exhibition games then beating Utah in the restart opener, the Thunder had been on a roll. But playing shorthanded Monday, the Nuggets proved to be too much as they dominated points in the paint 50-28.
“We have to be more solid,” Chris Paul said. “Especially myself in trying to keep guys in front and play team defense.”
Michael Porter Jr. led all scorers with 37 points for Denver. But it was the triple double from Nikola Jokic that caused the Thunder the most problems. He tallied 30 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in the victory.
“It was a huge size advantage,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan. “They had Jerami Grant at times as the two guard, they were playing Jokić and (Mason) Plumlee together, (Paul) Millsap out there, I mean they are very, very big long physical team and I thought Jokić found ways to get himself fouled. I thought we did a good job on them in the first half.”
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led Oklahoma City with 24 points on 6 of 13 shooting. He also shot 9 of 11 from the free throw line.
Chris Paul added 23 points and eight assists. But the veteran point guard also tossed in five turnovers. As a team, the Thunder threw away the ball 15 times.
“We’ve been great all year all along taking care of the basketball. Since we’ve been here in Orlando, we’ve turned the ball over too much,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan. “That’s got to be something that we need to clean up.”
Oklahoma City played without Terrance Ferguson, who has a leg contusion.
They were also without guard Dennis Schroder, who left the NBA bubble to be with his wife Ellan for the birth of their baby daughter, Imalia.
The Thunder knew before they arrived in Orlando last month that Schroder would be leaving when it was time for the birth to occur. There is no timetable for Schroder’s return, but the team does expect him back at some point.
Oklahoma City will be back on the court Wednesday when they take on top seed the Los Angeles Lakers. They will close out the week Thursday when they take on the Memphis Grizzlies. After that, Oklahoma Coty will have just four games left in the regular season.
Coach of the Year
Lost in the excitement of game day, Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan was named NBA co-coach of the year Monday morning by The National Basketball Coaches Association. He joins Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer as co-winners of their Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award.
“I am honored and humbled to be recognized by the Coaches, they are a great group of people that I admire and respect,” said Donovan in a press release from the NBCA. “Receiving the Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award alongside such a terrific coach like Bud makes it even more special. Individual honors to me have always been a reflection of good team dynamics and I’m proud of the collective work that our players, coaching staff and the entire organization has put in this season. I’m looking forward to what’s ahead in Orlando as we get back to basketball and using our platform for social justice.”
After losing Russell Westbrook and Paul George in the offseason, most analyst believed the Thunder would be one of the worst teams in the league.
However, the additions of Paul, Gilgeous-Alexande and Danilo Gallinari gave Donovan a foundation to work with. Along with the development of a core young players, he has transformed the squad into a possible contender.
“Every season brings different challenges,” Donovan said. “When you’re dealing with a group of people, a group of individuals, how well you mesh and gel and work together is certainly a big part of how successful you can be as a team. It’s been great to see so many new faces come into the organization and work so well together as a group,” Donovan added. “That’s been really fun to watch.”
Story by Michael Kinney/Michael Kinney Media