Faced with an early first-round exit, the Denver Nuggets narrowly survived a classic western shootout on Monday 104-101 to send this series to a Game 5 in Oklahoma City. Tonight Denver must again fight for their playoff lives in order to extend this match to six.
To return home for a chance to get even, the Nuggets must come out with intensity and continue to make their threes and frees. In Game 4 Denver attacked from the arc and picked up 31 points from the free throw line despite 13 misses. Their go-quick philosophy gave the Nuggets some huge second shot opportunities in the last game that helped them produce 3-pointers.
Ty Lawson sparked Denver’s offense with a career playoff-high 27 buckets. But Danilo Gallinari could be the difference-maker tonight. When Gallinari contributes this Denver team can beat Oklahoma City. In Game 1 Gallinari put up 18 points, and though the Nuggets wound up losing a heartbreaker 107-103, the game could just as easily have gone their way. Gallinari matched his 18-point performance in Game 4, and this time the Nuggets came away with the series saving W.
The Thunder will advance to the Western Conference Semifinals with a win tonight. They knew every game was going to be tough and played hard in Game 4, but came up short on a couple clutch shots down the stretch. For Oklahoma City to close out this series their two young All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook must continue to deliver.
And the other starters Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha all must chip in more on offense to take some of the pressure off Durant and Westbrook. I’m sure the OKC coaches would prefer for Westbrook to have a few more distributions and assists instead of the 30 field goal attempts he made in Game 4. And again James Harden contributing off the bench will be so important to this team.
Dick Stockton, Pam Oliver and I will return to the Oklahoma City Arena where the crowd will be on their feet to energize the Thunder who are getting set to host the Nuggets in Game 5 at 9:30 PM ET on TNT.