Despite that, Butler said his transition has been seamless
because he already envisioned himself playing for a team like the
Thunder. His 23-point performance Monday in Oklahoma City's 117-96
victory over the Denver Nuggets at the Chesapeake Energy Arena is
exactly how he saw himself fitting in.
"I'm a fan of the game of basketball," Butler said. "So over the
years, I've watched the top tier teams. Obviously Oklahoma being one
of them. You understand the style of play of all the contenders. You
always imagine yourself in the system. Like, if I was there I would
do this or I would do that. I just tried to plug myself in."
The injury-plagued Nuggets (32-39) were never really in contention
the entire night. Without the services of several key contributors,
they did not have the horses to keep up with a Thunder (52-18) squad
fighting for the best record in the NBA.
Even though it was without guard Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City
led by 17 points going into the fourth quarter. Coach Scott Brooks
let his bench finish the game.
Forward Kevin Durant scored 27 points to lead six Thunder players in
double-figure scoring. He now scored at least 25 points in 35
consecutive games and is five away from tying Michael Jordan's
all-time record since the NBA merger in 1976. Durant also had eight
assists and shot 10-for-21 from the field.
"He's an unselfish superstar," Butler said of Durant. "Probably one
of the most unselfish superstars I've ever seen to ever play the
game. I've played with a lot of them. From Kobe (Bryant) to Dwyane
Wade to Dirk (Nowitzki). Gilbert Arenas in his prime. And I haven't
seen a guy like him, who can score pretty much at will, but such a
willing passer and facilitator."
Guard Reggie Jackson scored 16 points to go along with a career-high
11 assists. It was his second straight double-double. Forward Serge
Ibaka added 15 points and seven rebounds.
Denver was paced by guard Ty Lawson, who had 25 points and seven
assists. Center Timofey Mozgov added 12 points and nine boards.
Forward Kenneth Faried and guard Randy Foye each had 11 points in
The Nuggets, who were playing the second game of a back to back, did
not help their cause with 20 turnovers, missing 13 free throws and
shooting only 39 percent from the field.
"You can't turn the ball over as many times as we did, you can't
miss as many free throws as we did against a team this good on their
home floor," Denver coach Brian Shaw said. "That's a recipe for
disaster. And that's what it ended up being."
Oklahoma City came out of the gates firing from all over the court.
They were especially hot from 3-point range where they hit 6-of-8 in
the opening period. Butler, Ibaka and Jackson combined for 24 points
to help the Thunder take a 41-24 lead.
"They came out strong and we gave them a lot of easy shots," Lawson
said. "It felt like they weren't working for anything. Everything
was pretty much easy in the first half I think."
[to top of second column]
Denver tried to fight back in the second as they began the period on
a 9-0 run. They closed the gap to six points.
But that would be as close as the Nuggets would get. Durant
continued his onslaught of the Denver defense. From shaking forward
Darrell Arthur for a crowd gasping layup or draining mid-range
jumpers, he easily could have been a one-man gang.
But the Oklahoma City supporting cast was just as effective. Jackson
ended the first half with 10 points and eight assists as the Thunder
grabbed a 72-58 advantage, which was a season high in points scored.
"We didn't leave the passion in Canada," Brooks said. "We came back
here and took care of business."
NOTES: Oklahoma City G Russell Westbrook did not play Monday against
Denver. Coach Scott Brooks said he will be the lineup Tuesday in
Dallas. "We have our reasons and there are many of them," Brooks
said. "He practiced yesterday and looked great. We felt we had this
plan in place, and he will just sit out tonight and come back
tomorrow." Due to injuries, Denver had only nine healthy players in
uniform in Oklahoma City. "I put on the board, 'then there are
nine,'" Denver coach Brian Shaw said. "That's how many players we're
down to tonight Wilson (Chandler) being out again and Jan (Vessely)
being out." ... Oklahoma City F Kevin Durant was named NBA Western
Conference Player of the Week after he led the Thunder to a 3-0
week, tallying 35 points or more in all three contests. He averaged
a league-best 40.3 points-per-game along with 11.7 rebounds and 6.0
assists. He also shot 51.4 percent from the field and 54.2 percent
from 3-point range. According to Elias, he is now on pace for NBA's
first 32-plus points-per-game, seven-plus rebounds-per-game and
five-plus assists-per-game season since Michael Jordan in 1988-89.
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