2024 NBA Playoffs: What Went Wrong for Thunder and Nuggets

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The 2024 NBA Playoffs saw both the Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder come up short in the Conference Semifinals. Despite strong showings in the first round, the defending champion Nuggets were edged out by the Minnesota Timberwolves in seven games, while the Thunder fell to the Dallas Mavericks in five. Here’s a closer look at what went wrong for these teams.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Despite their impressive performance in the first round of the playoffs, the Thunder’s lack of playoff experience ultimately proved to be their downfall. Unlike many other teams, the Thunder were fortunate to have a relatively healthy roster, but their inexperience was evident when facing a seasoned opponent like the Dallas Mavericks.

The Mavericks, led by the dynamic duo of Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving, exploited the Thunder’s inexperience. They dominated OKC physically, especially in rebounding and interior defense. While the Thunder’s defensive prowess was effective against the New Orleans Pelicans, yielding them a sweep in the first round by holding the Pelicans under 92 points per game, the Mavericks quickly adapted to OKC’s strategies after Game 1, which the Thunder won convincingly with a score of 117-95.

The turning point came in Games 2 and 3, where Dallas adjusted their play and nullified the Thunder’s defense. Although OKC managed to eke out a win in Game 4, the Mavericks shut them down in Games 5 and 6. Game 6 was harrowing for the Thunder, as their over-aggressiveness culminated in a critical error. With just 2.5 seconds left on the clock, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who had been a standout performer for the Thunder throughout the playoffs, committed a foul that allowed the Mavericks to take the lead and win on free throws.

This crucial mistake highlighted the Thunder’s playoff inexperience. The pressure of the moment got to them, and the Mavericks’ seasoned players capitalized on it. The Thunder’s journey in the 2024 playoffs serves as a stark reminder that talent must be complemented by experience, particularly in high-stakes scenarios.

Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets experienced an unexpected and disappointing exit in the Conference Semifinals of the 2024 NBA Playoffs. Unlike their counterparts, the Thunder, the Nuggets had a team rich in playoff experience. But this time, their downfall wasn’t due to lack of knowledge but their failure to adapt when it mattered most against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Despite taking a comfortable lead into the second half of Game 7, it seemed like the Nuggets were coasting rather than pushing to secure the win. This complacency allowed the Timberwolves to claw their way back into the game. Anthony Edwards, who had been relatively quiet with just three points in the first half, emerged as a crucial playmaker in the second half. He, along with his team, found and exploited the Nuggets’ weaknesses, mainly targeting Jamal Murray, who was playing through an injury.

One critical aspect of the Nuggets’ failure was their inability to respond to the Timberwolves’ adjustments. The Timberwolves, led by the tenacious Edwards, adapted their strategy on the fly, a shift that the Nuggets struggled to counteract. This adaptability and responsiveness were hallmarks of the Timberwolves’ game, highlighting their growth into legitimate contenders.

Nikola Jokić, Denver’s star player, and Jamal Murray struggled under the relentless pressure from the Timberwolves. Jokić, in particular, faced difficulties maintaining his usual dominance, with Minnesota’s defense tightening around him. The Nuggets’ historic collapse—blowing the largest lead in NBA Game 7 history—was a clear indication that their approach became static and predictable as the game progressed.

The Nuggets betting lines were strong, and many thought they could ride their success from last season into another championship run. However, the Timberwolves proved to be a formidable opponent, especially on defense.

Opportunities to regain control slipped through their fingers multiple times, illustrating that it wasn’t a matter of raw talent or capability. Instead, it boiled down to the Timberwolves being the better team when it counted. The Nuggets’ inability to adapt to Minnesota’s evolving gameplay sealed their fate, leading to a stark reminder that even seasoned teams can be undone by complacency in the ever-competitive landscape of the NBA playoffs.