The Nuggets got a major boost off the bench from forward Wilson Chandler, who tied his career-high with 35 points on 13-of-19 shooting. He was also a torrid 6-of-7 from behind the 3-point line.
Chandler, always a willing and capable scorer, has been working his way back into a groove after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip in April 2012. In the previous four games, Chandler was averaging 15.8 points in 28 minutes per game—an indication that his offensive production was returning to form.
However, even Chandler himself didn’t think he was capable of scoring 35 just yet.
"Honestly, I thought I'd have a pretty good night, but 35?” Chandler speculated. “No. I was playing in my rhythm and taking open shots."
18 of Chandler’s 35 came in the first half, which helped the Nuggets lead 56-47 at halftime. Conversely, in the second half, the Thunder stormed back with the help of dynamic point guard Russell Westbrook, who scored 28 points through the third quarter. He would finish with a game-high 38 points.
It got interesting in the final seconds of the fourth quarter after Thunder forward Kevin Durant hurled a bank shot over Danilo Gallinari to tie the game at 103 with 17.6 seconds left. The game-tying shot gave Durant 25 points for the night to go with 14 rebounds and three blocks.
After a Nuggets timeout, the ball was in the hands of point guard Ty Lawson. The 5-foot-11 Lawson came off a Gallinari screen and was flanked by the Thunder’s 6-foot-7 defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha.
Lawson paced the clock, dribbled with his right hand, then quickly to his left and lofted a 23-foot jumper over Sefolosha that pierced the net, giving the Nuggets the lead with 0.2 seconds left and the eventual victory.
“He made a contested shot over one of our best defenders,” said Thunder head coach Scott Brooks. “A lot of times we've made that stop. He made a tough shot. They played a little bit better and made one more play than us."
In fact, it was the Nuggets just doing what they do at home—play a little bit better than their visitors. Only the Miami Heat have a better record at home with 26 wins against three losses.
The Nuggets score 108.9 points per game at the Pepsi Center, which is 6.3 more points per contest versus their production on the road. In addition, they’re defensively better, holding their opponents to just under 100 points per game compared to giving up 104 points a game on the road.
The last time the Nuggets lost at home was on January 18 against the Washington Wizards. Their other two losses came against the Heat on November 3 and the Minnesota Timberwolves on January 3.
The Thunder, seated in the second spot of the Western Conference, lost their second in a row at Denver. Actually, top teams from both the Eastern and Western Conferences have tried to win at the Pepsi Center, but to no avail—the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers and Indiana Pacers to name a few.
Located 5,280 feet above sea level, Denver is one of the more challenging places to play. The high altitude presents a cardiovascular challenge for any team looking to steal a victory at the Pepsi Center.
Combine the breakneck pace of Denver’s offense, a league-leading 21.5 fast break points per game at home, with the high altitude of the Pepsi Center, and you get visiting teams that can never breathe a sigh of relief.
"The fast-break points, that's a killer," said Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, whose team fell to the Nuggets 119-109 at the Pepsi Center last Monday. "That team is like a track team over there."