Down to just 8 players, Thunder get improbable win over Nuggets

BY foxsports • November 2, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY -€“ At 1-2 on the season, the Thunder should probably hold off before making NBA Finals plans.

But Saturday was certainly worth a celebration. 

The Thunder got weird and then they got an improbable 102-91 win over Denver inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, but then again, any win by this group in the next four weeks or so will be nothing short of improbable.

Inconceivable as it was, Saturday was really more unexplainable. Try getting a handle on all of this. Ready?

The Thunder were down to eight players. Eight. They were down to one point guard -€“ Sebastian Telfair -€“ who went 1-for-10 from the field, but had nine assists and just one turnover and they were down on their luck like nothing they've been through before.

No Russell Westbrook. He had surgery Saturday morning in Ohio. No Kevin Durant. He's was in a suit and in a boot on the bench. Same goes for Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Mitch McGary and anyone else who might have found a way into the game under somewhat normal circumstances. 

Maybe that's why Saturday's win is so hard to fathom, much less, explain. 

Telfair played 38 minutes. Kendrick Perkins scored 17 points, Perry Jones had 23 and now has  55 in his last two games, and even played some point guard. Andre Roberson, Lance Thomas and a mismatched group played inspired.

Maybe that's why the home crowd rose for a standing ovation after the first quarter, something OKC coach Scott Brooks said he's never seen before.

"What we saw out there exemplifies who we are as an organization.," said Brooks. "I'm so proud of the young men Everybody chipped in. It was a band of brothers rallying for one another. Everybody just chipped in."

It's OK to feel good about this one, this home-opening win coming with lineups Brooks cobbled together as if he lost a bet. 

I feel like every game, I take it serious, but there was definitely inspired play from our guys and the crowd," Brooks said.

Weird doesn't explain it. The Thunder played a zone defense and did it with the gusto of a 15-seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Brooks coached like he had to win. The team played like it, too.

So what if OKC has to play without Westbrook and Durant for at least the next month. So what if they struggle to match the intensity of Saturday night, counting on baskets and stops from guys like Lance Thomas and Andre Roberson. 

For now, it's worth enjoying and it's OK to say it. 

"I'm really proud of our team," Nick Collison said. "We're trying to find a way to get offense. We have strange lineups in and so far we've done a pretty good job. We're going to have tough nights, I'm sure, but it's a pretty good start for us."

Pretty necessary win, too. The Thunder got their first victory of the season and now get to see if they can avoid reality for just a bit longer. Next up: Back-to-back games at Brooklyn and Toronto before coming home to play Memphis.

Each of the Thunder's eight players played at least 19 minutes. Everyone scored. Perkins made six-of-seven shots and had five rebounds. Jones played 40 minutes, made a 3-pointer with 1:46 to play after the Nuggets got to within four points, and Roberson had eight rebounds, eight points, three blocks, five assists and a lot of fun.

"It was fun," Roberson said. "Going out there under these circumstances and winning the way we did. We're all in this together."

That togetherness seems to be the theme from now until what seems like forever when Durant and Westbrook return. We'll just see if the Thunder can stay that way, because things are going to get more difficult.

"I feel like we can," Roberson said. 

If that's the case, there will be a lot bigger and better celebrations in the future.

Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK

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