Mudiay, surging Nuggets sink Thunder
DENVER — A move to the bench is paying off for Emmanuel Mudiay and the Denver Nuggets.
The point guard scored a season-high 21 points, Paul Millsap had 17 points, seven assists and tied a career high with six blocks, and the Nuggets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 102-94 on Thursday night.
Nikola Jokic contributed 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Will Barton and Mason Plumlee scored 13 each off the bench for the Nuggets, who earned their sixth win in eight games.
Mudiay was a big part of Denver (7-5) improving to 4-1 on its homestand. He hit his first seven shots, finished with seven rebounds and five assists and sank all four of his shots from 3-point range.
“He’s playing really good,” Jokic said. “In the beginning of the season, we didn’t play as well as a team, so it’s not his fault. He always brings his energy and brings something from the bench. He knows what he’s supposed to do, and he is doing it every night.”
Carmelo Anthony led the Thunder with 28 points to tie a season high, and he moved into 24th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He passed former teammate Allen Iverson (24,368) and ended the night with 24,385 career points.
Russell Westbrook had 13 points, seven rebounds and a season-low five assists for the Thunder, who have lost four straight.
Oklahoma City (4-7) is meshing seven new players, and the growing pains are tough.
“The veterans we do have here have been through this,” Paul George said. “We’ve got to take ownership to it, and collectively we’ve got to make this thing happen. We want to be a lot better off, obviously, but once we try to nip this problem we’re having, we’ll move forward. We’ll move past this.”
Anthony isn’t worried heading into a Friday home game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
“It could go two ways: We could let this sit in our heads and think about it or put it behind us and move forward,” he said. “That’s the beauty of this league and having so many games. I know we complain about back-to-backs, but sometimes the back-to-backs are in our favor as players because you get to put that game behind you.”
This one was a toss-up after three quarters. Raymond Felton scored the first six points of the fourth to put Oklahoma City in front, but Denver went on a 9-0 run to take an 89-82 lead with 6:35 left. Mudiay hit a 3-pointer, his fourth of the game, and a driving layup around Millsap’s fadeaway jumper.
Anthony checked in and scored five quick points, and Westbrook hit a 3-pointer to cut the Thunder’s deficit to 93-90. Westbrook missed a layup that would have made it a one-point game, and Millsap converted a three-point play to give Denver a 96-90 lead with 2:09 left.
Anthony’s tip-in with 1:42 left pulled Oklahoma City within four, but Barton hit two free throws, and Jokic’s tip with 52 seconds gave Denver a 100-92 lead.
“What I liked about our team tonight when we were up in that fourth quarter, we didn’t play not to lose,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “We stayed aggressive. We kept pressure on, and I think that’s really big because I think when you get tentative down the stretch, that’s when things kind of fall apart.”
Anthony passed Iverson on a 3-pointer that put Oklahoma City ahead 44-42 with 4:52 left in the second quarter. The former Nuggets star had 15 points in the first half to help the Thunder take a 53-51 lead at the break.
Oklahoma City led by as many as 11 in the first quarter, but Denver rallied behind 11 points each from Mudiay and Barton off the bench to take a brief two-point lead in the second quarter.
NOTES: F Carmelo Anthony scored his first 13,940 points playing for the Nuggets from 2003 to 2011. He is 20 points behind Ray Allen for 23rd on the NBA all-time scoring list. ... The Nuggets honored their ABA roots with a halftime ceremony featuring former players Spencer Haywood, Chuck Williams and Ralph Simpson. ... Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan, F Paul George and G Russell Westbrook were fined $15,000 by the NBA on Wednesday for public criticism of the officials after the Sunday game at Portland. ... The last time Denver F Paul Millsap had six blocks was March 28, 2016, against the Chicago Bulls. ... Westbrook produced 11 total assists in his past two games after averaging 11.1 in his previous seven.