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Five takeaways from Thunder's overtime loss to Nuggets

The Oklahoman 11/24/2022 Joe Mussatto, Oklahoman

Nikola Jokic led the shorthanded Nuggets to a 131-126 overtime win in Oklahoma City on Wednesday night. 

Jokic scored a season-high 39 points. 

Nuggets guard Bruce Brown had a triple-double. 

Denver forward Vlatko Cancar had the game of his career. 

Denver erased a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit to upend the Thunder. 

The Thunder started Jeremiah Robinson-Earl on Jokic. Aleksej Pokusevski and Eugene Omoruyi both got their turns. Thunder coach Mark Daigneault turned to a zone defense after just a few minutes, but 

The Nuggets weren’t at full strength Wednesday night. Not even close. 

Jokic, the two-time reigning MVP, was in, but Jamal Murray (return to competition reconditioning) and Michael Porter Jr. (left heel contusion) were out. 

There’s more. Jeff Green (right knee contusion), Bones Hyland (non-COVID illness), Ish Smith (right calf strain), Peyton Watson (non-COVID illness) and Collin Gillespie (right lower leg fracture) were also out. 

Oh, and Denver was on the second night of a back-to-back after losing at home to Detroit on Tuesday night. 

“We always prepare as if they’re going to be full, and then adjust accordingly,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said before the game. 

At the time, Jokic, Murray and Porter were all listed as questionable. Minutes later, Nuggets coach Michael Malone declared all but Jokic as out. 

“This will be our third game against them in 18 regular-season games,” Daigneault said. “We also played them in the preseason, so we’re very familiar with the plan against them and the things that are important.” 

The Nuggets started Aaron Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Davon Reed and Bruce Brown next to Jokic. 

SGA’s stepback 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stepped back and sent Nuggets guard Davon Reed stumbling to the deck, as if Reed had enjoyed one too many pre-Thanksgiving beverages. 

Reed anticipated the drive. He was wrong. 

Gilgeous-Alexander held his follow through, hopping on one leg until the elbow jumper dropped through the net. 

The Thunder bench had to hold each other back. Aleksej Pokusevski, who was on the court, winced as if he had just witnessed a crime. Reed got up and made the walk of shame down the court. 

OKC, which trailed by 19 points in the first quarter, outscored Denver 34-15 in the third quarter. 

SGA’s step-back was the signature shot of the third quarter. 

Isaiah Joe Game: Part 2

There was the Isaiah Joe Game in Dallas. This was the Isaiah Joe Game vs. Denver. 

Joe scored a career-high 21 points in 21 minutes. The Thunder outscored the Nuggets by 17 points with Joe on the court. 

Joe and Jalen Williams combined for 37 points off the Thunder’s bench. 

Poku returns

Aleksej Pokusevski was back in the starting lineup after spraining his left ankle last Friday in Memphis. 

Pokusevski played well, scoring 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting. 

Poku blocked three shots. 

Kevin Durant compliments Thunder, Mark Daigneault responds

Kevin Durant is a basketball junkie. He knows the Thunder has two Jalen/Jaylin Williamses. He knows how to pronounce “Pokusevski.” And he certainly knows what Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been up to. 

Durant, the divisive former Thunder legend, praised OKC’s young core for two minutes on his “Boardroom” podcast. 

Durant raved about SGA. 

“The moves that he’s making are just sharp, veteran-type moves,” Durant said. “That’s just straight work and the mentality of, ‘This is what I want to do out here.’ Once you add all of that in a pot, that’s tough to stop. And then he’s 6-6 and strong.” 

“How old is Shai?” Durant asked. He was told 25, but SGA is only 24. 

“By the time he’s 28, 29, you see the team around him, you never know who could be on that team with the assets that they have out there,” Durant said. 

Durant pushed back against the narrative that Gilgeous-Alexander is playing with “a bunch of nobodies.” 

“They got some solid basketball players over there,” Durant said. “Lu Dort, solid ballplayer. Reason why he got paid. Josh Giddey is a solid ballplayer. Will get paid once his rookie deal is up. Am I saying his name right, ‘Pokusevski’? 6-9, can shoot it, can play multiple (positions). These dudes are good players.” 

Poku is actually 7-foot, but give Durant a pass for nailing the pronunciation. 

Durant was then reminded about Chet Holmgren, the Thunder’s No. 2 pick (like Durant), who’s waiting in the wings. 

“Once he comes back it’s gonna be ridiculous out there,” Durant said. “They just got size up and down the board … And then they have great coaching. I love what I’m seeing out there.” 

Before the Thunder’s game Wednesday, coach Mark Daigneault said he heard Durant’s comments. 

“As you build and as you grow, the highs look a little bit higher and the lows are maybe fewer and farther between,” Daigneault said. “That’s really what we’re trying to do, and if people recognize that, great, we’ll take the compliment. 

“Certainly coming from him, he and (Russell) Westbrook and (Serge) Ibaka, all the guys, (Nick) Collison, (Kendrick) Perkins, the guys that played here, they have cemented a legacy here that we have deep respect for as we continue to build this thing again. 

“We certainly want all the former players to have pride in the way we’re playing and the way we’re handling ourselves on the court.” 

Thunder tip-ins

• Thunder center Mike Muscala suffered a fracture in his left pinky finger Monday night against the Knicks. Muscala will be reevaluated in two weeks, the Thunder announced Tuesday. 

• “I don’t even think he knew he fractured it on the play,” Daigneault said. “It was a rim contest that I think he went up through the net on (Jericho) Sims.” 

• Muscala has averaged 6.0 points and 3.5 rebounds in 13 minutes per game. He’s shooting 32% from 3-point range, down from his career-high 43% mark last season. 

• “How he handles these sorts of things and the way he is around the team when he’s hurt or when he’s playing is just so consistent,” Daigneault said. “He’s a big part of our building and our culture. Hopefully he’s back shortly.” 

• Jalen Williams ditched the mask. 

• “The guy is an MVP candidate,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said of SGA. 

• OSU men’s basketball coach Mike Boynton sat courtside with his son. 

• Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. For the record, Daigneault went with turkey as his favorite Thanksgiving dish and pumpkin pie as his favorite dessert. Classic.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Five takeaways from Thunder's overtime loss to Nuggets

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