The Oklahoma City Thunder’s late-game defense has been consistently problematic this season. In what may have been the game of the season thus far, that inattentiveness reared its ugly head on the final play of the Thunder’s 127-124 loss to the Denver Nuggets.
While defending the final possession, Russell Westbrook, as he has a habit of doing, lost track of Gary Harris before the throw-in. The Nuggets guard took advantage of Westbrook by drifting to the wing opposite from Nikola Jokic, who was inbounding from the sideline.
Amid all the action, Jokic saw Harris and flicked a crosscourt pass to the Nuggets guard, who sank the game-winning trey over the outstretched arms of Westbrook.
Afterward, Jokic who tallied 29 points, 10 rebounds, 14 assists and two blocks told TNT’s Kristin Ledlow, “I think Russell fell asleep.”
“I think Russell fell asleep” – Nikola Jokic pic.twitter.com/1LWiyURsoA
— Rxbun (@Rxbun) February 2, 2018
After opening the fourth quarter at the mercy of a 17-point deficit, Paul George and Westbrook were the catalysts for a furious comeback. George contributed 43 points on 19-of-26 shooting and although Westbrook didn’t have a great shooting night, he earned his second 20-point, 20-assist game of 2018.
In the final three minutes, Westbrook and Murray began trading buckets at a dizzying pace. Westbrook scored 10 of Oklahoma City’s final 16 points in the last 3:05 and pocketed an assist on one of George’s two treys over that period. Jokic’s game-winning assist was his 14th of the night, but his 10th rebound en route to his ninth career triple-double may been his most pivotal play of the night.
After Westbrook drove to the rim and converted a quick layup, courtesy of a perfect screen by George, the Thunder trailed by only one with 28.9 seconds remaining. However, Billy Donovan substituted Josh Huestis for Steven Adams, leaving Jokic with a considerable size advantage. Murray bricked a pull-up jumper, but Jokic tipped the offensive rebound himself and was fouled by Westbrook.
The Thunder still had a foul to give and Jokic was fouled a second time by Jerami Grant, before sinking both free throws. George’s frantic 3-pointer on the other end knotted up the score at 124 thanks to a textbook step-back move that should be featured on instructional videos for the next decade. Unfortunately, George’s contested jumper left the Thunder with one second leftover on the clock for Denver to nibble on.
The NBA’s last two-minute report will look into whether Jokic was illegally sliding his feet on the final throw-in on the winning inbound, but it won’t mitigate the sting of this loss for Oklahoma City.
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