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Thunder use depth to put Nuggets in deep hole

by | CBSSports.com
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- George Karl got exactly what he wanted. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook most definitely did not combine for 72 points. Not even close, in fact.

Something tells me, however, that he's not going to be calling it a success. The Thunder's super duo combined for just 44 points, but Oklahoma City still whipped the Nuggets 106-89 in Game 2 of their series. At one point, the Thunder led by 26 in the first half and the Nuggets never got closer than 10 in the final 24 minutes.

Yep, the Nuggets did a great job on Durant and Westbrook. Yet they lost by 17 and find themselves trailing 2-0.

After scoring just five points in Game 1, James Harden led the Thunder's "other guys" with 18 on Wednesday. Serge Ibaka scored 12. Nick Collison had 10. The Nuggets are supposed to be the team with scoring depth and balance, but on Wednesday it was the Thunder.

"You don't win the games we've won just having one or two guys," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "I really believed those guys were going to step up and score some points."

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Karl seemed to almost be at a loss for words after the game as he searched for a reason the Thunder jumped all over his team in the first half.

"They were totally in control," he said. "They were energized, they were more physical, they were quicker and probably smarter." Yeah, I guess that would sum it up pretty well.

The Nuggets made a clear adjustment to try and limit Durant. It was obvious on OKC's first possession when, on a high pick-and-roll, Denver doubled Durant. He didn't panic, but instead took an extra dribble and found an open teammate in the corner. Swish, 3-0 Thunder. And from that point, they never looked back.

"They showed us some different looks double-teaming and trapping us in pick-and-rolls, but I think Russell and myself did a good job of kicking it and making the easy play," Durant said. "It's all about moving the basketball and making right basketball plays."

Durant finished with 23 points on 7-of-15 shooting. It's not like Denver completely bottled him up. He is, after all, Kevin Durant. They did manage to force him outside. Durant's first basket inside the 3-point line didn't come until the fourth quarter. And it was a big one as he dropped back-to-back shots in the paint to extend the Thunder's lead back to 14 with seven minutes remaining.

This win for the Thunder wasn't exclusively about Oklahoma City's role players stepping up. The Thunder's defense was entirely terrific. In Game 1, the Nuggets started the game shooting 7-for-7 from the floor. In Game 2, they started 1-for-8. Denver shot just 39 percent and scored only 89 points. We're talking about the top offensive team in the league here. But against the Thunder, nothing doing.

Kendrick Perkins was the one, as he should be, that sent the message early that things were different this time around. Wilson Chandler was driving to the basket but Perkins fouled Chandler hard in the air, bringing on a flagrant whistle.

"Just a playoff foul," Perkins said. "I think we was missing that the first game. I think my job is to be an enforcer in the right way. I think we was missing kind of physicality and I think they kind of brought it to us the first game."

Said Scott Brooks: "That's one of the things we like. He [Perkins] brings toughness. He brings a physical attitude every time. It's who he is. He does it in practice, he does it in shootaround and he does during the game. I'm sure when he takes his kids to school he has an attitude."

The Thunder just did what they were supposed to do. It might have been foreign land to come in as a favorite, but winning the first two at home is what you're supposed to do as the higher seed. Some of the other Western favorites didn't take care of business, of course, but the Thunder haven't moved on yet. Now it gets tough. Now OKC has to take things to the mountains and play the Nuggets in their yard.

Nick Collison put it pretty simply: "It's a game to four and we've got two points."

But Denver's got zero, which is exactly how the Thunder wanted it. Just more good defense.

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