Andre Miller isn’t known for voicing his opinion. So when the veteran point guard started talking, the Denver Nuggets listened.
A big performance on his 37th birthday started with an inspirational speech and finished with Miller’s play doing all the talking for him.
Miller scored 13 of his season-best 20 points in the fourth quarter, and the Nuggets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 114-104 Tuesday night for their first 13-game winning streak since joining the NBA.
"He’s a coach and a teacher and a veteran, and he does it every day in a very classy way, a very quiet way," coach George Karl said. "And then he can do what he did tonight, where he can take the most talented team maybe in the NBA and be the best player on the court for the last 6 minutes of the game."
Denver took control just after halftime, building a 13-point lead and then holding off the Thunder as they got back within 102-97 after Russell Westbrook’s 17-foot jumper from the left elbow with 4:08 to play. Karl put Miller back in the game at the next stoppage, and the 13-year veteran was a stabilizing force.
Miller had back-to-back jumpers as Denver answered right back with five straight points, and he went five for six at the foul line in the final 69 seconds to close it out.
Denver’s previous longest winning streak since the 1976 ABA-NBA merger was 12 straight in 1982. The franchise won 15 in a row in the 1969-70 ABA season.
"It’s cool. I’m sure a lot of people didn’t think we would get this game, but we talked about having some pride, working hard and practicing," Miller said. "We put in a lot of work to get to this point, so at least we came out and gave a good effort and it paid off."
Ty Lawson led Denver with 25 points. Miller also had nine assists and seven rebounds in 23 effective minutes.
Kevin Durant had 34 points and Westbrook chipped in 25 for Oklahoma City, which fell to 30-5 at home this season.
The Thunder gave up a season-worst 72 points in the paint – Denver’s specialty – as both teams struggled throughout the game from 3-point range.
The Nuggets trailed by 10 early in the second quarter, but then dictated the tenor of the game the rest of the way.
"It’s easy to fall into that trap. That’s what they do. They get up and down the court," Durant said. "Our game is a little different. We want to run, but we want to run off our defense.
"Those guys run off of makes, misses of course and turnovers, but they continually run and pass the ball well and they score a lot in the paint. We fell into the trap and we couldn’t play that game with them."
The Nuggets, who average an NBA-best 57.8 points in the paint, had 66 and 60 in that category in wins against Oklahoma City in Denver earlier this season.
"I’m sure they talked about keeping us out of the paint. They like to get to the paint and the free-throw line. It was just a battle of the wills, and we figured out how to play some defense in the second half, and that led to more paint points," said Miller.
Kenneth Faried said Miller spoke to the team before the game for the first time all season, preaching that there should be no excuses after a 109-108 overtime victory a night earlier in Chicago.
"Andre Miller is a guy who doesn’t really say too much. … When he talks, and he talks to the rest of us, everybody listens," Faried said. "Nobody’s playing around. Everybody listens, everybody locks in and is focused."
Denver moved within 3 1/2 games of the Thunder in the Northwest Division and became the first team this season to beat Oklahoma City three times. It’s also a big win in the chase for home-court advantage in the playoffs for Denver, which is tied with Miami for the NBA’s best home record at 30-3 and using the win streak to try and edge out the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis in a tight race.
"I don’t know where it ranks in NBA history, but it’s a good run," said Karl, who won 14 in a row with Seattle in 1996. "I don’t want to get too happy about it because we have a job to do and we have a challenge. It’s to move in to get home court. There’s no question that the brand of basketball that we’re playing is growing and maturing, and our confidence is growing with it."
The Nuggets trailed 66-65 at halftime, but took the lead on Danilo Gallinari’s 3-pointer and then followed Westbrook’s tying, two-handed dunk off an inbound alley-oop pass by charging ahead with a 12-2 run. Andre Iguodala’s right-handed, fast-break slam – created by Gallinari’s steal – put Denver up 80-70 midway through the third and prompted Scott Brooks’ second timeout to try and end the surge.
After back-to-back Thunder baskets, the Nuggets added to their cushion with seven straight points – a Lawson 3-pointer, a Corey Brewer jumper and then an 18-footer by Lawson – to make it 87-74 with 2:59 left in the third.
The Nuggets had six players score in double figures, getting 13 apiece from Faried and Gallinari, 11 from Brewer and 10 from Iguodala. Faried also grabbed 15 rebounds as Denver overcame a 14-6 first-quarter rebounding deficit to beat Oklahoma City 52-45 on the glass.
Wilson Chandler, who tied his career-high with 35 points in a win at Chicago a night earlier, did not return after separating his left shoulder in the fourth quarter. Karl called it a "slight" separation and also said Lawson aggravated a heel injury. Both are considered day-to-day.
Kevin Martin had 14 points off the bench for Oklahoma City and Kendrick Perkins had 11 rebounds, but did not play over the final 18 minutes as Denver build up its big rebounding edge.
The Nuggets were 4 for 21 from 3-point range, only slightly better than Oklahoma City’s 4 for 25.
"The first time us meeting, they blew us out and it wasn’t even close. They really was taunting and all the, I guess, disrespectful stuff and we got upset about that," Faried said. "Tonight, I really wanted to come out and prove that, hey, we can compete with y’all and actually, we’re better."
Notes: Karl drew a technical foul in the second quarter for complaining to official Marat Kogut after Lawson was called for his third foul against Durant’s "rip move," when he swings the ball through a defender’s arms. … Denver’s winning streak is the third-longest in the NBA this season, behind Miami’s current 23-game run and the Los Angeles Clippers’ 17-game streak. Oklahoma City won 12 straight earlier in the season. … The Heat and San Antonio are the only other teams to beat Oklahoma City twice this season.