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They don’t call him the ‘Point God’ for nothing.
Chris Paul lit up the nets at last weekend’s All-Star game, pouring in 23 points on 8 of 13 shooting. Five days later flames were still flickering from beneath the rim in Oklahoma City with every Paul shot attempt that fell through the iron.
Paul was magnificent against the Nuggets Friday, tallying 29 points and leading the Thunder to a 113-101 win. He shot an efficient 7 of 11 from the field and added four rebounds and three assists. The 34-year-old dealt damage in transition, beating the Nuggets down the floor and outmaneuvering Jamal Murray into a pull-up jumper in the first quarter. He came off a high ball screen from Steven Adams a few moments later and got to his favorite spot on the court — the right elbow — and buried a 17-footer with Nikola Jokic stationary at the rim. To close the second quarter Paul Millsap tried to switch out onto the smaller point guard on the perimeter but Paul pulled-up at the 3-point line and buried one of his four triples in the game.
Paul played his game, got to his spots and dominated as Oklahoma City handed Denver its first divisional loss of the season in both team’s first game following the All-Star break.
It wasn’t how the Nuggets planned on starting their post-All-Star game slate.
Let’s go to the grades.
Nikola Jokic – A
We were all Nikola’s Witnesses Friday. Jokic was fantastic against the Thunder, finishing with 32 points on 12 of 15 shooting. He also went 7 of 7 from the free-throw line, grabbed seven rebounds and handed out five assists. But Jokic needed more help.
Tell me if you’ve heard this story before.
“The Nuggets waste a great night from Nikola Jokic and fall to ____. ”
It happened again in Oklahoma City. Denver couldn’t knock down the open 3-point shots Jokic created and as a team, the Nuggets shot just 6 of 27 from distance. That sounds like the same story that’s haunted Denver in some of its losses this season. It’s also a similar script to how some of the Nuggets’ playoff losses transpired.
Will Barton – A-
Barton was steady in Oklahoma City but saved his biggest contributions for the fourth when he hit two much-needed 3s over the final six minutes of regulation that kept Denver within range. He stuffed the stat sheet with nine rebounds and five assists. Barton was questionable to play in this one with the same knee inflammation that kept him out of a couple games before the All-Star break and didn’t have his usual pop. Still, he was one of Denver’s few scoring options outside of Jokic and Jamal Murry.
Jamal Murray – B
Want something to watch over the next two months of the regular season? It’s how many 3s Jamal Murray attempts per game. On the season, he’s shooting 5.3 triples per contest but since returning from a 10-game absence prior to the break Murray’s attempting 7.3 3-pointers per game. That’s second number is a great one for Murray to shoot for. He was 1 of 5 from distance against the Thunder and 8 of 16 overall from the field for 21 points to go with six rebounds, four assists but also five turnovers. A scary fall looked like it might end Murray’s night for good in the first half when Denver’s point guard crumpled to the ground and grabbed his right groin/hip area. Somewhat unsurprisingly, Murray stayed in the game and returned for the second half. I wonder if there’s cell reception in the visiting locker room at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Monte Morris – C
Morris wasn’t great Friday but was the best of a second unit which really underperformed. He finished with six points, two steals and only turned the ball over once, a big positive considering Denver’s 19 turnovers were a main factor in the Nuggets’ loss.
Paul Millsap – D
This outing from Millsap reminded me of when the Nuggets went up against Brandon Ingram and the Pelicans earlier this season. This was a bad defensive matchup for Millsap, who’s been so, so good defensively this season. The small ball Thunder who start Danilo Gallinari at power forward gave him some problems. So did Paul, who got Millsap on an island on way too many occasions. After looking so spry right before the break this was a step back from Denver’s starting power forward who re-enterd the Nuggets starting lineup, a five-man group which started its first game together since Jan. 6.
Gary Harris – D
Harris went 1 of 3 from 3-point range and that’s about the best thing you can say about his night. He shot 0 for 4 from the floor otherwise, knocked in four free-throws and secured four rebounds. Maybe the All-Star break was going to provide Harris an opportunity to recapture the offensive prowess that’s alluded him for the last two seasons? Nope. He looked unsure of himself when he got within the 3-point arc Friday and on the season is now shooting below 40% from the field and 30% from 3-point range. It’s been rough.
Jerami Grant/Mason Plumlee – D
On the season, the Nuggets have played the Grant-Plumlee frontcourt a ton of minutes, 539 to be exact. Denver has been outscored by 85 points in those minutes and is sporting a poor 102.7 Offensive Rating and 109.1 Defensive Rating with Grant and Plumlee on the floor. That combination wasn’t effective again against the Thunder. Grant was a team-worst minus-17. Plumlee was a minus-10. It seems as if for now the Nuggets want to make that pair work and are committed to playing four bigs. We’ll see if that duo can reverse the trend which has followed them for the entire season Sunday against Minnesota.
Torrey Craig – D
On the topic of season-long sample sizes on lineup combinations, the Craig-Grant-Plumlee trio has played 128 minutes together across 25 games and has been outscored by 35 points, or 9.6 points per 100 possessions. On a second unit with Morris, Craig, Grant, Plumlee and Michael Porter Jr., Denver’s spacing was lacking against the Thunder and the Nuggets’ bench struggled to run their offense all night. Craig can be solid on defense, like he typically is, but that group really needs him to keep the defense honest from beyond the arc.
Michael Porer Jr. – Inc.
Porter played a brief three-minute stint in the first half and then a 4:34 stretch early in the fourth quarter, so it was difficult to take too much away from his first game action since Jan. 31. He scored four points on 2 of 4 shooting and pulled down two rebounds (one offensive). Perhaps the Nuggets want to ease Porter back from his extended absence. Seven minutes and 41 second of playing time still seems short though. We’ll see if his minutes get upped when Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez return to Pepsi Center Sunday.