You knew it was desperate times in Oklahoma City when, badly needing a bucket to end a 8-0 Denver run to start the fourth quarter, they went to Kendrick Perkins twice. And he scored. Twice.
The short-handed Thunder had just eight healthy players on Saturday night but quickly jumped on the Nuggets in Oklahoma City, building a 20-point lead in the second quarter. Denver tried to make it a game with a 35-point fourth quarter, but the Thunder survived the rally for a 102-91 win.
Perry Jones scored 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting and one ridiculous 3-pointer with two minutes left in the game to give the Thunder an eight-point lead.
Serge Ibaka added 23 points and a huge three of his own when Denver had cut the lead down to one, Perkins finished with 17 and five rebounds and even Lance Thomas added 12 points off the bench. More importantly, the Oklahoma City defense bothered Denver just enough, slowing the pace down and limited Denver to just 10 fast break points. The Nuggets shot 56 percent in the second half but it wasn't enough to recover from their early struggles.
The Thunder are going to have a tough time making the playoffs with both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant out until December, but Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb are both on the verge of returning to the lineup. Wins like this one are exactly what they need, and if they can tread water and go .500 in November, they should be able to battle back into the playoff picture with the return of their stars.
In particular, Jones gives the team a lot of hope. He now has 55 points on 19-of-35 shooting in his last two games, and if he can continue his strong play off the bench once Durant and Westbrook return, the Thunder look like even stronger title contenders. But for now, they have to take it one step at a time lest they miss the playoffs entirely.
3 other things we learned
The Southwest Division is brutal: It's the best division in basketball right now with a 10-3 combined record -- and two of those losses came against each other. On Saturday, the headliner was a high-scoring Dirk Nowitzki vs. Anthony Davis showdown where the Pelicans came from 26 back but couldn't complete a second half comeback. Davis had 31 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks, but Dirk's 12-foot jump shot with 49 seconds left iced a 109-104 win. In other Southwest action, James Harden scored 26 to lead Houston to an annihilation of the Celtics 104-90 (although Dwight Howard hurt his knee in that one) and Memphis ground out an ugly 71-69 win against Charlotte -- just like they like it.
Bulls win out in a good vs. fun match up: Jimmy Butler's two late free throws earned Chicago a 106-105 victory against the fun Timberwolves in an unexpectedly fun match up. In his first game back from injury, Butler had a team-high 24 points and got Andrew Wiggins in the air on a pump fake to get to the line and win the game. Despite the loss, Minnesota played some pretty enjoyable basketball, including 33 points by Kevin Martin and 17 assists from Ricky Rubio.
The Splash Bros further LA's misery: Kobe Bryant tried his damndest, but the Lakers fell 127-104 at the hands of a career night from Klay Thompson. After signing a $70 million contract extension on Friday, Thompson backed up that money with a career-high 41 points on 14-of-18 shooting, while his backcourt mate Steph Curry had 31 points of his own to go with 10 assists. Bryant had a vintage third quarter with 19 points and a couple signature step-back fadeaways, but it wasn't enough to get the Lakers a win.
The Lakers are 0-4 for the first time since the 1957-58 season. In Minnesota, three years before the franchise moved to Los Angeles.
Play of the Night
While Kobe has a solid candidate below, great passing always wins out in my book. Thompson sets it up with a fantastic 50-foot outlet pass (out of frame) which Curry snares over his head and bounces back to Andre Iguodala. Really missed a chance to go between your legs on this one, though, Steph. That's disappointing.
3 fun things
Kobe will never stop making Mamba shots, like this ridiculous spinning and-one that had no business going in.
Monta Ellis crossed up Anthony Davis reeeeal good right here.
Mavericks 109, Pelicans 104 (Mavs Moneyball recap | The Bird Writes recap)
Grizzlies 71, Hornets 69 (Grizzly Bear Blues recap | At the Hive recap)
Raptors 108, Magic 95 (Raptors HQ recap | Orlando Pinstriped Post recap)
Heat 114, 76ers 96 (Hot Hot Hoops recap | Liberty Ballers recap)
Wizards 108, Bucks 97 (Bullets Forever recap | BrewHoop recap)
Nets 102, Pistons 90 (Nets Daily recap | Detroit Bad Boys recap)
Hawks 102, Pacers 92 (Peachtree Hoops recap | Indy Cornrows recap)
Rockets 104, Celtics 90 (The Dream Shake recap | Celtics Blog recap)
Bulls 106, Timberwolves 105 (Blog A Bull | Canis Hoopus recap)
Thunder 102, Nuggets 91 (Welcome to Loud City recap | Denver Stiffs recap)
Jazz 118, Suns 91 (SLC Dunk recap | Bright Side of the Sun recap)
Warriors 127, Lakers 104 (Golden State of Mind recap | Silver Screen & Roll recap)