It wasn't the most exciting game, and at times, baskets were hard to come by. But this season's sweep of the Hawks gives the Thunder good confidence heading into the season's final stretch.
The Thunder played terribly offensively at the end of this game though, and it is a bit of a serious problem. They were missing badly shot jumpers, and the ball movement was terrible. If our star players weren't so excellent at getting fouled, the outcome of this game would seriously be in question.
But in all fairness, overall, the Thunder played a great game. Their offense came in spurts, and the excellent defense, especially on the interior, limited the Hawks all game. Our offense was especially good in the paint, which is why the Thunder shot over 50% for the game. In my opinion, that's the new identity of the Thunder. They're not as pretty as they used to be or as exciting to watch, but they can lock down games against good opponents away from home.
Let's hit the recap....
The Thunder started off the first in an offensive slump, with the Hawks consistently hitting their jumpers. They got the lead as high as seven before the Thunder responded by getting to the line and hitting a few jumpers of their own. Good rebounding and a couple bad turnovers allowed them to eventually take an 19-18 lead with 2:54 to go in the first. Aldrich followed up with a score of his own, and the teams didn't stop scoring until the end of the quarter, leaving the Thunder with a 31-26 advantage.
Below: The Second, Third, and Fourth Quarters, Future Analysis, Awards!
The turnover bug started to hit the Thunder early in the second, allowing the Hawks to make a comeback of their own. After six consecutive scoring plays, the Hawks had taken the lead back, 38-37. Shortly later, the Thunder took a decided advantage, scoring on three consecutive plays from beyond the arc. Their lead reached its apex at 8, before Kirk Hinrich responded with a three of his own. The Hawks tried to charge back, but Horford sat on the bench with three fouls. This left the Hawks mostly lost on offense, unable to score in the paint until Joe Johnson made a layup with two seconds left. This left the Thunder with a 56-51 lead heading into the half.
The third quarter opened up with a KD three, but it wasn't a sign of things to come. The Hawks had no size inside, but they could score relatively well, because they shot so well. Meanwhile, the Thunder seemed to be scrapping and scraping for every point in the paint they could get. The Thunder's lead seemed to dwindle away slowly, but the game had ebb and flow, and the Thunder did a good job of staying on top. As the quarter went on, the Thunder found their stride, and scored six straight times. The plays were all over the floor, but the most impressive was a mid-range bank shot from Thabo Sefolosha, something I've never seen from him. The Hawks would have a small renaissance at the very end of the quarter, but they still ended up heading into the fourth with a ten point deficit after a Kevin Durant breakaway dunk.
In the beginning of the fourth, both Etan Thomas and Damien Wilkins were on the floor, and they were both doing relatively well. But Thomas eventually failed on two successive possessions, and the Thunder started to take advantage. A watershed moment came when James Harden gave Damien Wilkins the old switcheroo and drove to the basket for an amazing-looking dunk. After that, the game was a see-saw battle, but the Thunder had a ten point lead. Kirk Hinrich hit a big three and got a foul call a couple of plays later, but the Thunder defense didn't allow for any consistent scoring from the Hawks. The Hawks got the deficit down to 6 with 2:33 to go, and eventually, the Thunder's defense couldn't contain the Hawks anymore, and the Hawks were sent to the line, cutting the lead to four. The Thunder's offense was downright terrible, allowing the Hawks to come within two. But the Thunder finally responded with a wide-open Westbrook three (which was a shot he passed up earlier). The Hawks missed two deep jumpers and were forced to foul Durant. As always, Durant sunk both shots, putting the Thunder up by 7 with 24.5 seconds to go.
This win keeps the Thunder three games ahead of Denver, who are on a tear of their own. We're still four and a half games behind the Lakers for the third seed in the West. This win also completes a 2-0 sweep of the Hawks, which is probably the best sweep we've completed all year, especially considering Atlanta is our Eastern equivalent record-wise. The Hawks fall 4.5 games behind Orlando in the race for the four seed in the East, and are still a long way from the top.
On to the Awards....
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, 28 Points, 3 Rebounds, 9 Assists, 4 Steals.
Thunder Down Under: Kevin Durant, 29 Points, 8 Rebounds, 5 Assists, 1 Steal.
Thunder Blunder: James Harden, for going 1-5 from three.
Thunder Plunderer: Joe Johnson, 24 Points, 4 Rebounds, 3 Assists, 1 Steal.
Next Game: Versus the Phoenix Suns, Sunday, March 6th, 6 PM Central Standard Time.