5 min read

Thunder unable to close it out in 106-100 loss to Hawks


The early portion of the schedule seemed to be somewhat favorable for the Thunder. After starting the year with six one-game road trips, the Thunder was set to compete in a two-game road trip for the first time this year with contests in Atlanta and Miami.

Things looked promising right after the tip-off. The Thunder forced a turnover on their first defensive possession of the game against the Hawks. The defense triggered the ever dangerous Russell Westbrook fast break. Westbrook finished with an athletic layup and it appeared the Thunder could assert themselves. The Hawks kept their composure and responded with a heavy dose of energy. That energy led to scoring opportunities through dribble penetration on offense and creating resistance defensively. Atlanta’s energy created somewhat of a malaise for Oklahoma City on offense. The Thunder settled for shots and didn’t look like they were that interested in playing.

It appeared that the Thunder would have to go into the locker room at halftime and attempt to regroup. Luckily for them, Serge Ibaka had other ideas. Ibaka’s presence made it seem like he was everywhere on the floor on defense. He forced turnovers and missed shots, which sparked Oklahoma City’s offense. He forced turnovers, but Oklahoma City, as a whole, played with much more force to finish the half. The Thunder finished the half on an amazing 18-3 run. What was equally as amazing was the fact that run occurred in a span of just 3:19 of action.

Atlanta is a talented team, so they showed their resolve to start the second half. Atlanta was posed with a similar question in the third quarter that Oklahoma City had to answer in the first half. With the tide starting to turn, would they play with poise or would they break? They got hit upside the head to end the second quarter, but they pushed right back during the third quarter. In addition, they withstood a 10-point attack in the quarter from Kevin Durant to maintain a five-point lead going into the fourth quarter.

The game was up for grabs in the fourth quarter. Both teams refused to back down when they had the chance to do so. Both had to figure out how they had the best chance to get to the finish line. The Thunder had to go with what ultimately worked to get them back into the game: going small. The athleticism allowed them to get out and run in transition, but it left them exposed for second-chance opportunities to be had for the Hawks. After Durant carried the team in the third quarter, Westbrook took over in the fourth quarter. He scored at will as he scored 17 of his game-high 34 points in the final frame. He carried the Thunder to a 94-92 lead with 2:47 left in the game. While they did bend, the Hawks did not break. Instead, they had some timely rim protection off well-executed Thunder plays out and took advantage once they secured the ball.

The Thunder’s offense will be potent on any given night, but they will be unstoppable when their defense ignites their offense. They don’t have to be as stout as they were during the 18-3 run in the second quarter, but they just need to make things difficult with their athleticism. If they’re able to do so, they can blitz the opposition into submission. If they’re able to do so, they won’t have to exert as much energy as they did just to get back into the game against the Hawks.

Though it’s just two games, opportunity is there for the Thunder to build addition chemistry and cohesion on the road. A bunker mentality isn’t the worst thing in the world when you’re out on the road. Things looked bleak in the first half. Instead of backing down to fight another day, the Thunder roared back. You can often learn a lot when you lose. They had a chance to secure a strong victory, but the Hawks were simply just too strong late in the game. Back to the drawing board.


  • Oklahoma City has traditionally found its greatest success when outrebounding the opposition. Coming into the matchup against Atlanta, Oklahoma City ranked second in the NBA in rebounding (47.7 rebounds per game). OKC is 9-3 this season when outrebounding the opposition. Atlanta won the battle of the boards as they outrebounded Oklahoma City 51-48. The Thunder is now 2-4 when they are outrebounded by their opponent.
  • One of the things the Thunder attempted as they were making a comeback attempt in the second quarter was going small with Westbrook-Waiters-Morrow(Roberson)-KD-Ibaka as the five on the floor. The analytics will look solid for the small ball lineup due to the blitz to end the second quarter, and it has been successful at times this season. It’s scary to think that the offense can get even more lethal but it can when the Thunder decide to go small.
  • Ball movement is usually one of the major keys to success. The Thunder is 7-2 on the season when they dish out more assists than their opponent. With the loss to the Hawks, they fell to 4-5 when they have fewer assists than their opponent. Atlanta came into the matchup second in the NBA in assists (25.6). They finished the night with 22 dimes.
  • Al Horford is good at basketball. When you have a big man who is comfortable stepping out to 3-point range and is comfortable defending on the perimeter (granted blocking Nick Collison won’t impress many), you’ve got yourself an extremely skilled center. It didn’t matter who Oklahoma City threw at Horford as they never truly found an answer to slow him down. That must have been bittersweet for Donovan, who coached Horford at the University of Florida. Horford is clearly more of a finished product on offense than his time as a Gator. That was on display during his 17-point, 12-rebound performance.
  • Turnovers and fouls plagued Jeff Teague all night long, but he ultimately got his in the end. Atlanta’s head of the snake struggled to gain any traction early in the game as he had half a dozen turnovers and committed a ton of cheap fouls, but he came through in the clutch as he scored two huge layups that provided the Hawks with some much-needed breathing room. He scored 10 points in the fourth quarter in the victory.
  • Kyle Korver is someone you simply have to track when you’re playing the Hawks. He went just 4-of-13 from the field and 3-of-9 from 3-point range. Credit has to be given to Andre Roberson and the rest of the perimeter wings as they did a nice job tracking Korver throughout the night. That’s not an easy task as Korver will still run all over the floor in order to create space for himself.
  • Fellow sharpshooter Anthony Morrow did what he usually does: get shots up from 3-point range. Being a product of Georgia Tech University, Morrow likely felt good playing in Atlanta. Then again, when you have shooting mechanics like Morrow does, you likely feel good any night you’re on the floor. There were looks Morrow had received the ball and it didn’t go any lower than his chin during his shooting motion. Think about that. He’s getting the pass outside of the ideal window but that doesn’t deter him from releasing the ball as quickly as possible.
  • Speaking of Korver and Morrow, would anyone really be opposed to watching the two of them battling it out in a 3-point shootout?
  • Durant hosted a block party. Being the Southern gentlemen that they are, the Atlanta Hawks decided to RSVP for the event. After recording three blocks in the team’s previous game against the Detroit Pistons, Durant added an addition four blocks against the Hawks. He toyed with Dennis Schroder in the fourth quarter. The Hawks guard thought he slipped past Durant for a layup but was met by the forward. What was more impressive was that Durant was defending Horford on the previous possession (OKC was playing small and Durant switched onto Horford), and Durant held his ground in the mid-post and stuffed Horford’s attempt.

Next up: A Nationally Televised matchup at Miami against the Heat on Thursday.