OKLAHOMA CITY — Attempting a 3-pointer, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s shot ricocheted off the rim and briefly landed on the top of the basket before unceremoniously trickling down.
“Credit them, it’s impressive how sharp — not even this game, the other two games watching them — how sharp they’ve been this early in the season coming off of a championship and a late run,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said about the Nuggets. “It’s got to be hard to gear it back up the way they are. They picked up right where they left off.”
After two impressive road wins to start their season, the Nuggets quickly reminded the Thunder that they’re still a ways away from being considered in the same tier as them — which is perfectly fine for one of the youngest teams in the league despite a hot 2-0 start.
After a back-and-forth opening minutes, the Nuggets created distance on the scoreboard against OKC as they led 34-23 following the first quarter. The deficit only grew as Denver entered halftime with a 69-51 lead.
In the third quarter, the Thunder uncharacteristically couldn’t exit the break playing better. Instead, the Nuggets added to their lead and entered the final frame with a 22-point lead.
The Thunder lost this game in the shooting department. OKC shot an ugly 41% from the field and 6-of-32 (18.8%) from 3. Meanwhile, the Nuggets generated easy shot after easy shot as they went an impressive 60.2% from the field and 11-of-27 (40.7%) from 3.
Struggling against Denver’s size, the Thunder were outrebounded by a 48-29 margin. OKC was also outscored in the paint, 72-58.
Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 28 points, 14 rebounds and five assists. The two-time MVP — like he usually does — got whatever he wanted against OKC and played within the flow of Denver’s offense.
“What made them hard to attack tonight is they kinda moved it first,” Daigneault said about the Nuggets’ offensive outing. “Jokic was getting it in kinda the middle of the possession and it made it a lot harder for us to kinda recognize rather than if they came down and just jam the ball to him.”
For the Thunder, this is an easy game to burn the tapes of. The good news is that this only counts for one of 82 games. Heading into the season, most would’ve taken a 2-1 start by OKC looking at the schedule.
“It’s good to get these early in the year,” Jalen Williams said about loss. “Especially (since) they just won a championship. To kinda match up against them early and figure out where we are is kinda like a blessing in disguise.”
The Thunder will get a chance to quickly wash away the taste of this blowout loss when they welcome in the Detroit Pistons for the second night of this home back-to-back on Monday.
Let’s look at Thunder player grades.
In his home debut, Holmgren was OKC’s best player in this 31-point loss.
In 26 minutes, he had 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting and four rebounds. He shot 1-of-4 from 3 and went 4-of-4 from the free-throw line.
Despite playing a lofty Nuggets frontcourt, Holmgren went an efficient 6-of-8 inside of the paint. Outside of an elbow to the jaw by Jokic, Holmgren had a fine home debut after over a year waiting.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: F
After averaging 32.5 points on 61.4% shooting in his first two games, Gilgeous-Alexander had a subpar performance in the Thunder’s home opener.
In 28 minutes, Gilgeous-Alexander had seven points on 2-of-16 shooting, seven assists and four rebounds. He shot 0-of-4 from 3. This included a 0-for-10 start from the field. It was the first time he was held to seven or fewer points since Dec. 2019.
“They’re the defending champs and they’re not that by fluke,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “They play the right way on both ends of the floor and they’re a really good basketball team. They came to play tonight and we weren’t good enough to compete against them.”
From the free-throw line, it was another quiet game for Gilgeous-Alexander, who went just 3-of-4. This comes a game after he only attempted his first free-throw attempts in the final four seconds of the contest.
After being third in free-throw attempts last season, Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging just 3.6 attempts in his first three games this year. Most players would get discouraged from playing such a physical brand of basketball if the whistles weren’t there to warrant it, but for Gilgeous-Alexander, he won’t let it affect the way he plays.
“I honestly have no clue,” Gilgeous-Alexander said on his reasoning why he’s received drastically fewer free-throw attempts. “Guess it’s just the way the game goes. Sometimes you get calls, sometimes you don’t.”
Overall, it was a bad game from Gilgeous-Alexander. These types of stinkers happen — even for someone like him who’s notoriously consistent with his high-efficient scoring. You just got to tip your cap to Denver and move on.
Jalen Williams: B-
In 28 minutes, Williams finished the game with 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting, five assists and three rebounds. He went 6-of-8 inside of the paint.
The 22-year-old only played two minutes in the fourth quarter before he was pulled as OKC waved the white flag.
“They did a good job at controlling the pace,” Williams said about the loss. “I don’t think we crashed very well either so we had a lot of one-and-done attempts… Kinda just the way it goes. Long season.”
Tre Mann: B
Considering his situation, Mann made the most of an unplanned opportunity.
With the game decided, Mann played the final eight minutes of the fourth quarter and racked up 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting and four rebounds.
The playing time is seldom there for the third-year guard, so being a microwave scorer in the fourth quarter — even though the game was decided — can only be seen as a positive direction.
How positive? That remains to be seen. In his first two games, Mann only totaled two minutes of action. This occurred after he barely played in preseason. It feels like the writing is on the wall for the 22-year-old.