Quantcast 2011 NBA Western Conference Playoffs: Round One - Denver vs Oklahoma City

 

2011 NBA Playoff Preview – Western Conference First Round

Western Conference First Round Game 3 - Oklahoma City 97, Denver 94 – Thunder lead series, 3-0

 

In the series that had six or seven games written all over it a week ago, the calculus has become quite different in a very short period of time. A matchup between two of the most entertaining teams west of the Mississippi River has instead become a lopsided affair ticketed for a four- or five-game conclusion.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are one victory away from their first Western Conference semifinal appearance since the franchise moved from Seattle in 2008. On a night when league-leading scorer Kevin Durant wasn’t shooting up to his typical reputation, it was defensive specialist Serge Ibaka who stepped up in the key moments for the number four seed that’s playing more like a number two seed. Ibaka scored 22 points and grabbed 16 rebounds to pace the Thunder on both ends of the floor as the visitors strode into the Mile High City and took a surprising three-game lead on the shellshocked and squabbling Denver Nuggets. The fifth-seeded Nuggets had played some of the best basketball in the league after their blockbuster trade with the New York Knicks in February, but it’s become clear in this series that Denver’s lack of a crunch-time scorer has become a big liability against Oklahoma City’s blended style of play.

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Neither team shot the ball well all night, with both finishing under 38 percent from the field. Leading 70-62 after two Ibaka free throws with 3:49 left in the third quarter, the Thunder let down their guard, and the Nuggets closed on an 11-1 run to take a two point lead into the final stanza. In the fourth quarter, Durant and All-Star teammate Russell Westbrook took their team on their backs, scoring all but four of Oklahoma City’s 26 fourth quarter points.

Trailing 94-84 with 49 seconds left, the Nuggets made one last rally, and miraculously had a chance to tie the game on the final possession. Turnovers, missed free throws, and clutch shooting from Denver’s J.R. Smith got the Nuggets within 95-94 with 14 seconds left. On the ensuing possession, with Denver desperately trying to foul, the Thunder moved the ball quickly up the floor, finding Ibaka for a dunk at the 10 second mark to give Oklahoma City a 97-94 lead. On the final possession, Smith’s three-pointer fell well short after stout defending from Thunder guard James Harden.

 

 

Denver was just 30-of-45 from the free-throw line and 6-of-23 beyond the three-point line. Five Nuggets scored in double figures, led by Smith, Kenyon Martin, and Nene with 15 points apiece. Durant scored 26 points but was just 7-of-22 from the field. Westbrook had 23 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists.

 

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By: Matt Zemek
Pro Basketball Fans Staff Writer


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