The Oklahoma City Thunder are an emerging team, rising to relevance again in the NBA after years on the slide. However, they are still not on the level of title contenders like the defending champion Denver Nuggets.
The Nuggets have reeled off three wins to start the season and slapped down the Thunder 128-95.
Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander spoke after the match and admitted that his team had been handed a reality check.
“They’re defending champs, and they’re not that by fluke,” he said. “They play the right way on both ends of the floor and they are a really good basketball team. They came to play tonight. We weren’t good enough to compete against them.”
NBA Finals MVP Nikola Jokic was on fire on Sunday evening, laying down 28 points and 14 rebounds, while Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray combined for 39 points and 17 assists.
Denver coach Michael Malone was happy to see his team maintain their intensity after a hot start to the season.
He said: “Winning a championship, the one thing you worry about is thinking we can just show up this year and we’re going to win. And that’s not the case. This is a brand new season. What we did last year, although magical in nature, has nothing to do with this season. And I think our players, the way they’re playing – it’s very early – but after three games, our guys are playing with the requisite mindset that you need to if you’re going to be a team that can try to win another championship.”
If Malone wants to establish a dynasty, he needs contributions from his starting five and beyond. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shone in the win on Sunday, assigned to shut down first-team All-NBA point guard Gilgeous-Alexander.
Malone singled him out for praise, saying: “You’ve got to credit guys like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who I think is an all-NBA defender. You know, we asked him to guard the best players 82 regular season games and 20 playoff games last year and he’s totally committed to that. He understands that that’s his greatest gift to this basketball team.”
Denver’s perfect start to the season has included two road wins. Malone identified that as another key factor in their success.
He said: “We know that we have to be a team that can travel, beat the best teams in the NBA on the road. And to do that, you have to bring the defence. And I felt our defence tonight was outstanding across the board.”
The Thunder travel to Detroit to face the Pistons on Monday, while the Nuggets return home to Denver to host the Utah Jazz.
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