Kevin Durant scored a career high 51 points and Russell Westbrook added 40 more as the Oklahoma City Thunder's dynamic duo outscored seven other NBA teams in action on Sunday night, but they needed plenty of help to knock off the visiting Denver Nuggets 124-118 in overtime. James Harden rolled his ankle in the second quarter and failed to find range all night, but Serge Ibaka answered the bell with an eye popping triple-double including 14 points, 15 rebounds and 11 blocks. Nineteen teams other than the Thunder played on Sunday night, and none of them recorded more blocks that Ibaka did on his own. The performances by Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka marked the first time in NBA history that a team featured two players with 40+ scoring nights and another teammate with a triple-double. All of this concentrated dominance makes it even more amazing that Denver actually played from the front up to the end of regulation.
The Thunder thrived on the strength of their terrific trio, while the Nuggets -- without Rudy Fernandez (lower back strain), Danilo Gallinari (ankle) and Nene (calf) -- shared the load in every respect. Seven players scored in double figures for Denver, headlined by Arron Afflalo's season-high 27 points and Andre Miller's 21-point, 10-assist double-double. Al Harrington snared a team-high 11 rebounds in Nene's absence, but seven players grabbed at least four boards. Meanwhile, backup bigs Chris Anderson and Kousta Koufos picked up the slack on the scoring front by aggregating 24 points on 11-13 from the field.
The Nuggets managed to stay out in front for most of regulation largely because they never stopped long enough to consider the gravity of the situation. George Karl opted to forcefully dictate the pace of the game by encouraging Ty Lawson and company to attack in the open floor and work quickly half court sets. Denver entered the game as the fastest team in the NBA with the fourth most efficient offense, but their approach on Sunday night bordered on a serial obsession with speed. The action almost moved too rapidly to appreciate Kenneth Faried's early highlight block and Russell Westbrook's poster-worthy response. Whether the Thunder made shots, missed them or turned the ball over, Nuggets players always responded quickly. The behavior almost felt context-neutral. Everything had to happen fast; that felt like the penultimate goal.
For the most part, Denver's run-and-gun style did the job, too. They jumped out to 14-point lead in the second quarter on 52.1 percent shooting and 17 first half assists on 25 made shots, but when things got sloppy in transition OKC put together a 20-0 run fragmented by the halftime break that landed them within striking distance for the finish. Ty Lawson and Andre Miller masterfully operated the up-tempo attack for the majority of the night, and the Nuggets ended up with 72 points in the paint to show for it, but at times the fast break devolved into a mess of turnovers and off-balance shots from sub-optimal spots. In one blink the Nuggets surged to a 46-32 lead with 6:29 in the second quarter, but in the next blink they slipped behind 63-58 with 8:28 left in the third.
Denver operated in deadly fits and starts, but OKC sparkled when Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka shared the floor. Those three combined to score 55 of the Thunder's 58 second half points on 24-32 shooting, as everything they touched turned to gold on offense. Miller and the Nuggets opened the fourth quarter on a 10-1 run and pushed the Thunder to the brink -- OKC only led for 19 seconds in the fourth. Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka scored their team's final 27 points in regulation to get the contest to overtime. Durant's 51 points on 78.7 percent True Shooting marks one of the most spectacular individual offensive performances of the year, but the game still proved too close to call in regulation.
The final minutes of the fourth quarter and the entirety of the overtime period demonstrated the stark differences between the star-laden Thunder and the undermanned Nuggets. In the final four minutes of regulation, Scott Brooks allowed Westbrook and Durant to work out of isolation sets and either create for each other or get a shot on the rim for Ibaka to clean up. The simple formula allowed OKC to get back in the game, and Durant sent it to extra time with a well-paced driving dunk off an in-bounds play originally designed for a three-point look.
Meanwhile, Denver squandered their late lead by playing to their fear of Ibaka on defense. They ran some pick-and-roll with Chris Andersen in an attempt to draw Ibaka away from the basket, but that led to Birdman taking a few long jumpers and scoring five of their last 10 points in regulation. Birdman score the bulk of crunch time points is never a good thing. The late-game offense highlighted the painful lack of a go-to player for Denver. With a chance to seal the game with under 10 seconds remaining, Ty Lawson tried to run pick-and-roll with Al Harrington, but when Westbrook moved under the screen, Lawson forced himself into an ill-fated long three that clanged off the side rim and allowed Durant to tie the game with his dunk. Then on the final possession Lawson tried an isolation at the top of the key but ended up with an off-balance up-and-under from the free throw line that caught the right side of the cylinder.
Durant and Westbrook capitalized on the OT opportunity by scoring all 13 Thunder points, putting pressure on the Nuggets to execute in the half court. Oklahoma City successfully ran the rudimentary "our guys are better than your guys, so try and stop it" offense to perfection (because their guys are indeed better), but Denver could not match them on their own terms. With five crippling turnovers and numerous isolation shots taken under duress in OT, the Andre Miller as emergency creator plan fell flat on its face for George Karl. Ibaka closed every angle to the hoop and the Nuggets simply had no answer when Thunder took running off the table.
The Thunder are now 12-1 at home and have won nine consecutive games at Chesapeake Energy Arena. They own the Western Conference's best record at 24-7. The injury-depleted Nuggets have now lost 8 of their last 10 games and have fallen to 17-15 overall.
Serge Ibaka's points-rebounds-blocks triple-double is the first in franchise history -- Oklahoma City and Seattle included -- to involve blocks, and here is a look at how Ibaka secured his place in history: