Thunder rally, then hold off Nuggets

Michael Kinney, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Guard Russell Westbrook knows the Oklahoma City Thunder are living on the edge. In several games this season, the Thunder allowed themselves to get down by huge deficits before fighting their way back into games.
It happened again Monday with the Denver Nuggets in town. Trailing by 14 points, the Thunder clawed their way to a 115-113 victory at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
"Just toughness," Westbrook said. "We are a tough group of guys. We take on the challenge, especially when the game gets tight and gets close. We want to win games."
The Thunder (7-3) had to hold on in the final seconds Monday to get the job done.
With 1:41 left, Denver and Oklahoma City sat tied at 105-105. Westbrook missed two shots, but forward Serge Ibaka grabbed the rebound of the second and slung the ball out to forward Kevin Durant at the top of the key. Durant calmly drained a 3-pointer to put the Thunder up by three before doing a little shimmy.
"I love it, man," Westbrook said of Durant's dance. "I'm full of animation. I'm glad he finally added some animation to his game, too, so it's good."
Denver (4-6) cut the gap to 108-106 when forward Kenneth Faried made one of two free throws with 39 seconds left.
Westbrook then dribbled past Denver guard Randy Foye and center J.J. Hickson for an uncontested layup to put the Thunder up by four with 22 seconds to go.
Nuggets guard Ty Lawson answered with a step-back jumper. With 14 seconds remaining, Oklahoma City guard Reggie Jackson was fouled and knocked down two free throws.
On the ensuing Nuggets possession, Ibaka was called for goaltending on a Lawson layup with 7.8 seconds left, slicing Oklahoma City's lead to two.
Westbrook was fouled on the inbounds pass and made one of two free throws.
Thunder guard Derek Fisher then fouled Lawson before the Denver guard could get up a 3-point attempt with 3.9 seconds left. Lawson hit the first foul shot and attempted to miss the second, but the ball banked in. Denver was forced to foul Fisher, who sank both of his free throws for a 115-112 lead.
Westbrook fouled Lawson, who once again hit the first one. This time the second came off the rim and went out of bounds off a Oklahoma City player. Denver had the ball with 2.1 seconds to go.
Hickson got off a 3-pointer that hit nothing but backboard as the Thunder held on for the win.
"We can't start the game giving them 39 points in the first quarter," said Durant, who scored a game-high 38 points. "That just opens the flood gates for them to hit the shots they were hitting. We have to be better, but we fight hard and we made plays down the stretch. We can't make it a fourth-quarter game every game, so we just have to be better."
Durant collected eight rebounds and six assists to go along with his 11-of-27 shooting. Westbrook contributed 30 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.
Lawson led Denver with 29 points and eight assists. Hickson had a game-high 19 rebounds to go with 18 points.
The Nuggets hurt themselves by shooting 25-for-43 at the free-throw line. They also were outrebounded 53-45.
"Although don't believe in moral victories, there is a lot to be learned from this," Denver coach Brian Shaw said. "We can't coach effort. The effort was there. It's just sad that it comes down to us missing 18 free throws and us giving up 19 offensive rebounds. (It shows) the importance of the small details of making free throws and boxing out."
Denver had a balanced attack going early on. All five starters scored at least one basket in the first six minutes.
Hickson was the most active, taking control of the paint by grabbing offensive rebounds and sticking them back for easy buckets. Denver held a 39-28 lead in the first quarter.
"He was big for us tonight," Shaw said of Hickson. "He played with a lot of energy, he was ferocious on the boards. He finished inside when they threw the ball inside to him. He made his presence felt inside."
After trailing by 11, the Thunder stormed back in the second quarter behind the combination of Durant, guard Jeremy Lamb and Jackson.
Denver led 63-60 at halftime.
After a quiet third quarter, Westbrook heated up in the fourth. He and Durant combined to score 16 points to help the Thunder go on a 20-12 run and set the stage for their final push.
"We controlled the game for 3 1/2 quarters, but that's not enough," Hickson said. "The game is four quarters, for 48 minutes. The good teams, the great teams in this league play hard for 48 minutes, and that's something we got to get better at."
NOTES: Oklahoma City was coming off a three-game road trip in which it lost two in a row. Despite the defeats, coach Scott Brooks was impressed with his team's competitive nature. "We have a group that doesn't 't like to lose," Brooks said. "Even the game when we were down at Golden State, we felt we could make a run at them. That was one of the best games of the year." ... Denver F Wilson Chandler made his first start of the season. He missed the first two games of the season with a hamstring pull, then came off the bench for three contests. ... In the Thunder's previous six games, F Serge Ibaka averaged 18 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots. He made 64.3 percent of his shots over that span. Denver coach Brian Shaw said Ibaka should be in the All-Star conversation. "He's not the dynamic-type star player you typically think of as an All-Star," Shaw said, "but I think as coaches, we understand the value of what he brings to his team."

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