In the era of the Kevin Durant Warriors, it sometimes seems like the outcome of the NBA season is a foregone conclusion — Golden State will win the title, so does it really matter what else happens along the way? But that would be like watching the Oscars and only focusing on who wins Best Picture instead of the other 23 awards. There may only be one champion, but there are infinitely more storylines that dominate the league throughout the year, and those are the ones that come to mind when thinking back on any particular season.
A great playoff series stands the test of time, and even if the Warriors are seemingly destined to make it to the Finals, there are a number of fascinating potential playoff series in the Western Conference that could take place before then. Tuesday night’s Oklahoma City-Denver masterpiece, for example, was a reminder that these two Northwest Division rivals would make for one fantastic postseason matchup.
In 2017, one of the defining moments of Russell Westbrook’s MVP campaign was a buzzer-beating three-pointer to eliminate the Nuggets from playoff contention on the same day he set an NBA record with his 42nd triple-double of the season. Since then, Denver has exacted a little bit of revenge. Over the last two years, the Thunder and Nuggets have played each other a total of seven times. Denver has dominated the series in terms of record — they’ve gone 6-1 against OKC — but the seven games have had an average margin of victory of less than six points, including a three-game stretch last season when the contests were decided by a total of five points.
The Thunder routinely play close games, which makes them one of the more exciting teams to watch on a regular basis. According to NBA.com’s John Schuhmann, they have been within five points in the final five minutes of all but three of their 22 losses. The Nuggets have also been involved in 34 clutch games, though they have a much better record in those games than OKC, in large part because of their superstar center, Nikola Jokic.
Jokic has been other-worldly this season, even if he still believes there are better players in the league more deserving of accolades, but he has been particularly magnificent against the Thunder. His net rating is plus-7.9 overall, and that spikes to plus-22.8 against Oklahoma City. The All-Star put up 36 points in the win on Tuesday, serving as the primary ball-handler late when the Thunder were pressing, which is an incredible responsibility to bestow to the biggest player on the floor.