OKLAHOMA CITY -- Here's what the Nuggets did Tuesday night in Oklahoma City:
- They extended their franchise record winning streak to 13 games with a 114-104 win over the Thunder.
- They beat the reigning Western Conference champs a third time in four tries.
- They became only the second Western Conference team to beat the Thunder on their home floor.
- They snapped a run of seven straight home wins by the Thunder, all being by double digits.
- And, most impressively of all, they did it on the second night of a back-to-back, the first game going overtime to boot.
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So, yeah, the Nuggets were impressive Tuesday night in OKC.
It's the kind of performance that sort of legitimizes a lot of what the Nuggets have been accomplishing the past few weeks. We know they can win at home, and we know they can beat average and below-average teams. But against the class of the West, the Nuggets assumed total control in the second half on the road in one of the league's toughest buildings to win.
"It's a real gut check coming to OKC on a back-to-back after an overtime game and [the Thunder] were here waiting for us," said Andre Miller. "It was a tough game, and we figured out a way to stick it through."
Denver basically ran the Thunder out of their own house in the second half. A 15-4 run to start the third took control of the game, then they outlasted an OKC comeback that cut the lead to five with four minutes left. But strong defense and quality closing from Miller was enough for the Nuggets to hold on.
"I'm realistic. Our team -- we're hot," said George Karl. "The momentum of being a hot team could go away as quickly [as it came]."
News flash: The Nuggets are for real. Does their style translate to the postseason? Not historically, no. But they're trying to break down barriers, trying to do something different. Beating a team like the Thunder three out of four makes a statement. The Nuggets have struggled with OKC in previous years, most notably in the opening round of the playoffs two seasons ago, when the Thunder won in five games. But the Nuggets have matured and grown, sort of perfecting this up-and-down-race-to-the-rim style.
Said Karl: "The depth of our team and the versatility of our team and how they figure out how to play and who is going to be 'the guy' I can't deny is a lot of fun to coach."
The critique of the Nuggets has always been about their team-based approach that doesn't rely on traditional scoring tiers. Instead of looking to primary and secondary scorers, the Nuggets basically play things by ear and hope someone steps up. On Tuesday night, it was Ty Lawson who had 25. Or Miller, who, on his birthday, had 20 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Or Kenneth Faried, who had 13 points and 15 rebounds. Denver might be a sum-of-the-whole type of bunch, but when it works, it works. And seeing as that's now 13 straight for Denver, it's working.
"I don't want to be too happy about it because we've got a job to do and we have a challenge -- to move in and get home court," Karl said. "There's no question the brand of basketball we're playing is maturing and growing, and our confidence is growing with it."
It's funny, because pregame, Karl talked about how he's not sure this team is ready for any kind of next step. He basically said their goal is to win a playoff series and then just sort of go from there.
"I think there's a confidence coming with this team," Karl said pregame. "Is it there yet? Is it on the level of Oklahoma City or the Spurs or teams that have been to The Finals? Probably not. But I think it's there enough that we can feel confident in the first round of the playoffs. We can learn, hopefully survive and win a series."
I don't know if Karl is intentionally trying to short-sale his group for motivational purposes or something, but the statement that they made Tuesday against the Thunder should have everyone's full attention now.
George Karl's included.