In a battle between two playoff teams in the West, the Denver Nuggets and the Oklahoma City Thunder were trading blows from start to finish in their first game back after the All-Star break.
The Thunder jumped to an early 27-17 lead after the first 12 minutes but the visitors fought back in the second quarter, outscoring the hosts 31-21. In the third quarter, both teams were neck-and-neck as the hosts held a slim 78-77 lead.
It's in the final 12 minutes where the Thunder ran away with the game. Here are the biggest takeaways from this one:
CP3, Jokic duel in back-and-forth contest
Both teams boast deep rosters and each had multiple contributors on the night. The Thunder had seven players in double figures while the Nuggets received 37 points from their starting duo of Will Barton and Jamal Murray.
However, both teams were clearly led by their All-Stars - Nikola Jokic and Chris Paul - both among the best clutch players in the league.
The Serbian, in 34 minutes, led the way with 32 points (12-15 FGs, 1-2 3Ps, 7-7 FTs), seven rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block.
Your post All-Star break reminder:- Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) February 22, 2020
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On the other hand, CP3 scored 20 of his team-high 29 points (11-17 FGs; 4-6 3Ps) in the second half. In 33 minutes, he also recorded four rebounds and two assists.
CP3 for 4. @CP3 | #ThunderUp pic.twitter.com/xwPU4bKjoU- OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 22, 2020
OKC come through in the clutch
The Oklahoma City Thunder have played the most clutch games this season (38) and are holders of the best net rating in those games at 27.3. For these stats, "Clutch" is considered as a game within five points in the final five minutes of the game.
However, the Thunder outplayed the Nuggets for the entire fourth quarter.
Outscoring the visitors 35-24, the hosts shot 12-of-19 (63.2%) from the field and never turned the ball over while holding the Nuggets to just 9-of-20 shooting as the visitors committed three turnovers.
Road ahead in the tough West
Both these teams are in a position to playoff seeds in a competitive Western Conference over the last third of the regular season.
The second-seeded Nuggets, who are now 4.5 games behind the Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers with this loss, hold a slim 2.5 game lead over the fifth-seeded Houston Rockets with the Utah Jazz and the LA Clippers in between.
As per tankathon, the Nuggets have the 11th strongest remaining schedule.
The Thunder, meanwhile, are tied with the Dallas Mavericks for the sixth seed in the West while being only 1.5 games behind the Rockets. The OKC franchise have the 16th toughest remaining schedule.
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