Czar’s Playoff Preview: Thunder vs. Nuggets Game 4

Three games down and exit-bound, the Denver Nuggets must win Game 4 to stay alive in the playoffs and stretch this series to a Game 5 in Oklahoma City, while the Thunder will take steady aim at a clean sweep. Denver had their chances to win in Games 1 and 3, which were close down the stretch, but wound up dropping both 107-103 and 97-94 respectively. Unable to match the Thunder on offense, the Nuggets must now dig themselves out of a deep 3-0 ditch.

The Nuggets players are doing a lot of talking about their pride, asserting that being swept in Round 1 is not an option. I’m looking forward to seeing whether this Denver team just talks a good game or will back up their claims and compete like Philadelphia did in their do-or-die matchup against Miami last night. Down three games to none, the Sixers had enough fight, determination and leadership from their key guys and from their coaching staff to stave off a sweep with an 86-82 win over the Heat.

I’m very anxious to see if the Nuggets come out and show the same type of heart and resolve tonight. In order to turn things around they’ll need to attack from the 3-point line and make their free throws. Denver will want Nene to get involved in the game early; and they need Kenyon Martin to deliver big production. They also can’t let Oklahoma’s two young All-Stars have their way.

Dynamic duo Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had a spectacular effort in Game 1, combining for 72 points. They followed up with solid performances in Games 2 and 3. And they also got key contributions from teammates Nick Collison, James Harden and Serge Ibaka, who matched his career high with 22 points and 16 rebounds in Game 3. OKC came out early and scored quickly against the Nuggets in each of the first three games. And with the added length from Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder limited the Nuggets’ shooting to just 42% from the floor.

As you gain playoff experience you learn that it’s critical to put your opponents away as soon as possible because you never know what’s going to happen down the line (take Derrick Rose’s and Kobe Bryant’s Game 4 sprains for instance). If Oklahoma City closes out the series in tonight’s mile-high matchup, they’ll earn a welcome opportunity to catch their breath before Round 2. And if Memphis goes on to beat San Antonio, whom they’re leading 2 games to 1, then OKC will wind up with a big home court advantage when they up meet in the Western Conference Semifinals.

Dick Stockton, Pam Oliver and I will set up shop at the Pepsi Center where a capacity crowd will try and cheer the Rocky Mountain boys to their first playoff win when the Nuggets host the Thunder at 10:30 PM ET on TNT.

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