Denver Nuggets fail gut check versus Oklahoma City Thunder: Can they get back in series?

The Nuggets 106-89 hammering at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder last night would have been agonizing under any circumstances. But the way they lost compounds the pain. Simply put, this was the poorest game the Nugs have played since Carmelo Anthony trade -- and it came at the worst conceivable moment.

Within the first five minutes of the contest, it was clear the Nuggets had bought a ticket on the Humiliating Defeat Express. Everyone knew OKC stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had been given too many open looks from long distance -- everyone, apparently, but the Nuggets, who allowed each of them to drain uncontested threes in quick succession. Meanwhile, Denver looked unfocused, discombobulated, achieving no offensive flow and demonstrating zero defensive intensity.

In contrast, Kendrick Perkins, who Nenê embarrassed on multiple occasions during game one, not only turned the tables, but used them to beat the ever-loving shit out of Mr. Hilario and everyone else who dared to enter the lane.

That's called stepping up -- and none of the Nuggets did so. That's especially true of Wilson Chandler, who would have contributed as much sitting in street clothes like the desperately missed Arron Afflalo as he did on the court. Denver made a couple of runs late, but even at their peak, the Colorado crew seemed to know they'd never get over the hump.

So now what?

For the Nuggets to make this series truly competitive, as opposed to simply serving as a launching pad for the Thunder to take it to the next level, they have to make a statement in game three at home on Saturday. Winning alone isn't enough. They've got to dominate and intimidate with equal measure, creating enough momentum to squelch what would surely be a furious OKC squad in the crucial fourth matchup.

If not -- if the Nuggets lose, or even if they eke out a victory in unconvincing fashion -- the late-season magic they've exhibited could well vanish in a puff of smoke.

Fans aren't ready for that to happen. Sure hope the Nuggets aren't, either.

More from our Sports archive: "Denver Nuggets-Oklahoma City Thunder playoffs matchup: The mighty vs. the many."

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