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Thunder down Nuggets 108-99, steal first win of the preseason

With the Oklahoma City Thunder instating Derrick Favors into the depth chart, the Thunder dismantled the Denver Nuggets 108-99. For the Thunder, their victory marks the first win in their preseason tribulation, now sitting at 1-2. In the case of the Nuggets, their strikeout to the Thunder fended them from a win, currently winless at 0-4.

The onset of Wednesday evening brought upon another night of Mark Daigneault’s center shenanigans, handing Derrick Favors the starting nod in place of rookie Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. The starting swap failed to show dividends early as four made baskets, including a four-point play from Michael Porter Jr., stooped the Nuggets up 11-3. The Thunder struck back in retaliation through their inside-out play as a Lu Dort three coupled with two pick-and-pop mid-ranges from Derrick Favors lightened the deficit to 14-10. Following a Thunder timeout, Oklahoma City’s hot streak expanded as a 9-2 run, eight points of which came from Bazley, put the Thunder on top. A hot-handed Shai Gilgeous-Alexander put an exclamation on a 23-9 run to lift Oklahoma City 26-20, keeping their collectiveness for a 29-23 advantage. Darius Bazley surfaced as the Thunder’s top option as the forward posted a perfect 4-of-4 (2-of-2 3pt) outing to rack up 13 points and 4 rebounds. 

Oklahoma City’s second unit exploded to open the second frame working behind two Tre Mann pullups and a Theo Maledon 26-foot three to leverage a 13-point lead four minutes in. Denver steadily climbed the mountain utilizing Nikola Jokic’s inside play and a collection of outside baskets to draw the contest within a sole possession at the three-minute mark. Josh Giddey placed down a six-point cushion following a 26-foot catch-and-shoot three, igniting a game of back-and-forth to close the half. The Nuggets whittled the game to one possession one more time before the horn, but two face-up jumpers from Derrick Favors marked pivotal blows to hold themselves up 53-48 by half. 

The Thunder provided a full-course meal by half, shooting a steady 44 percent from the floor, 33 percent from distance, and 73 percent from the charity stripe. Oklahoma City found a safeguard at the foul line canning 11-of-15 free throws, while, on the flip side, Denver shot 5-of-6 on free throws. Darius Bazley placed 14 points (4-of-5 FG) and 6 rebounds at half while operating fluidly as a ball-handler. Derrick Favors capped the half with 10 points (5-of-7 FG) and 5 rebounds, working as a trusty mid-range shooter off of screens. Denver’s hole was created in large part to a 5-of-23 (21.7%) showing from beyond the arch, falling back on Nikola Jokic and Will Barton, who had 14 and 10 points, respectively. 

Oklahoma City entrusted Isaiah Roby to open the half as the forward placed eight consecutive points off a layup, and two top-of-the-key triples. The Thunder’s plan of working through one player permeated into the mid-portion of the period as Lu Dort sunk a pair of 30-footers and a layup for seven straight points and a double-digit lead. The Thunder continued to apply pressure, grinding out layups and free-throw opportunities to post an 18-point lead at the four-minute mark, reaching their peak at two minutes following a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander three, going up 82-63. The Thunder’s potential 20-point margin slipped away in the closing minutes as the Nuggets’ backcourt fueled a 9-2 closer, keeping Oklahoma City on their feet ahead 84-72.

Mark Daigneault kept out his youth-filled lineup of Tre Mann, Theo Maledon, Gabriel Deck, Aleksej Pokusevski, and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl to kick off the fourth period while Mike Malone threw out a mesh of starters and bench assets. Jeff Green reinvigorated the Nuggets immediately, charging 8-of-10 points in what cut the game to a paltry four points. Upon the close proximity, Mike Malone threw out his line of starters, including Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. From the Thunder’s camp, Daigneault didn’t move a muscle, instead placing out a Josh Giddey-led lineup of rookies and sophomores. Despite no true interior presence on Jokic, the Thunder mustered up adequate offense to fend off a mid-frame Nuggets comeback, latching onto two Josh Giddey baskets to find themselves up nine with four minutes to play. All hope was lost for the Nuggets with just over two to go as a Tre Mann layup coupled with an Aaron Wiggins three soared the Thunder up a baker’s dozen and prompted Mike Malone to shuffle out the starting unit. At the horn, Oklahoma City stood atop 108-99.

Oklahoma City let off a decorated performance in their win, shooting 49 percent (39-of-80) while shooting a ripe 38 percent (13-of-34) from downtown. The Thunder were frugal in their passing, notching 19 in all, however, the love had been shared in point distribution — eclipsing five players in double digits. 

Denver generated a bevy of offense through Nikola Jokic on Wednesday as the Serb recorded 22 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists, but there was little of a supporting cast at hand. The Nuggets grazed a 40-percent clip overall going 30-of-90, but any success fizzled past the three, shooting a dreary 25 percent wielding a success rate of 11-of-44. 

Darius Bazley led all Thunder members in scoring on Wednesday, tallying 16 points (5-of-8 FG) and 8 rebounds. Bazley’s first-quarter showing stacks up with one of his best in recent memory as the third-year forward let off a barrage of baskets from all three levels. In Baze’s Kodak moment, he tangoed with Nikola Jokic at the left wing, utilizing a crossover to get to the interior before putting Jokic in a spin cycle into a successive reverse layup. 

Lu Dort provided a sturdy off-ball scoring threat, sourcing 14 points across 26 minutes. Dort took a backseat role, shooting 3-of-4 from a distance while wiggling inside for a basket. Dort’s continuous presence in the scoring column has been an ongoing storyline throughout the preseason, and the expectation is the Arizona State alum will continue his work into the season.

Josh Giddey etched out a solid output churning out 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists. Giddey starred in his few assists, dishing off a two-foot bounce pass under the rim to a cutting Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. Giddey’s decision to pass given the circumstances was unorthodox, to say the least as he was mid-shot in a defender’s face, but the delivery of his pass had been inch-perfect. Giddey’s passing has been a major factor in his play to this point, but the 19-year-old also did a handy job in penetrating the basket.

Isaiah Roby clocked 14 points on Wednesday in a bench role. Roby was looking to let loose shots the entire way, ultimately finishing on a 4-of-10 outing, excelling from three, hitting 2-of-4 tries. Roby’s work at stretch five was minimized with the insertion of Favors, but it didn’t stop the former Cornhusker from finding open looks at the perimeter.

Tre Mann logged his first double-digit performance with 12 points pumping out a 5-of-10 shot chart. Mann struggled from downtown converting on only 1-of-4 trifectas, but the rookie did a wondrous job attacking the basket. The 20-year-old managed to see the foul line once in the contest, but he made up for it by finding a sweet spot in his runner and floater game.

The Oklahoma City Thunder will pack their bags to Tulsa to complete their preseason stale Thursday evening against the Denver Nuggets.

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