The Oklahoma City Thunder dropped a painful game at home to the Atlanta Hawks, losing 104-95. The Hawks were led by power forward Al Horford, who scored 23 points while grabbing 12 total rebounds, 6 of which were on the offensive glass. Horford was helped out greatly by point guard Jeff Teague, who met little resistance in his drives to the rim. Teague finished with 16 points and 5 assists on the night. Atlanta won despite the loss of their small forward Josh Smith, who stayed in Atlanta due to an ankle injury.
The Thunder were led by Kevin Martin, who shot a remarkably efficient 8-11 in the game to score a game-high 28 points, and Kevin Durant, who finished with 22 points, despite struggling from the field. Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook continued his hot or cold offensive ways by shooting a poor 5-18 on the night for 14 points. Westbrook did tally 9 assists and at times looked like he was really finding a groove as point guard, but the Thunder offense was permanently undone by a woeful 20 turnovers in the game.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
This statement might appear counter-intuitive, but I am kind of glad that the Thunder did not have great success in this game. To be sure, the Thunder lost the game because they committed 20 turnovers, many of which were unforced, and by losing the offensive rebounding battle 12-7. Those extra opportunities for the Hawks led to 12 additional shot attempts, and in a game that was decided in the final seconds, they proved to be the difference.
Rather, I am ok with the fact that the Thunder offense struggled in their current version because it looks like OKC is trying to do something that I don't think is going to work. OKC is giving the appearance that they are trying to allow Durant to pattern his game after LeBron James. Stat-wise, Durant is capable of it, as his 22 points, 14 rebounds, and 8 assists can attest. However, the problem is that the Thunder as a team concept are built upon the fact that they possess the best scorer in the game. If they don't treat Durant like he is the best scorer in the game and set him up with opportunities to score, the Thunder become very average on offense because they don't have a host of secondary players like the Spurs who can knock down open jumpers all night. Durant, Playmaker is great to see and I hope we continue to see his game evolve, but Durant, Playmaker must always give way to Durant, 3 time scoring champ because that is the one thing he does better than any other. If Durant is the guy at the top of the key setting up other guys, that means that Durant is NOT down on the blocks, hitting turnaround jumpers, and working his way to the free throw line for easy points.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder lost?
As the Thunder surged in the 2nd quarter with their offense humming, assists piling up, and open shots to be had by all, the OKC defense responded in kind and they turned an 8 point deficit into a 4 point halftime advantage. It looked like they were finally figuring out how to execute well consistently on both ends while expanding their offensive system.
Unfortunately, that strong 1st half effort was undone by an inability in the 3rd to put away the Hawks, who were staggering but never fell. The Hawks rallied from an 8 point and then 6 point deficit in the 3rd to take the lead heading into the 4th. The big reason why was because the Thunder forgot about everything they did right in the 2nd quarter, and this is the area where James Harden often helped smooth things out. It was not because he knew how to raise his game to meet the challenge per se, but because he was comfortable enough running the offense and setting up Durant so that Durant could get his offense going. Martin is proving to be an exceptional scorer and is a much better off-the-ball player and catch-and-shoot scorer than Harden, but he does not possess the strength or ball handling of Harden and so that responsibility stays with Durant and Westbrook. If Westbrook is struggling as he was tonight, then there is nobody else to help set up Durant in scoring opportunities.
The Thunder could not keep their offensive continuity, and as the turnovers mounted, the Hawks began to exert themselves. Atlanta played a bit of a rope-a-dope game, doing a great job protecting the ball and waiting for OKC to make mistakes. When the Thunder obliged, Atlanta was able to take advantage just often enough to put the game out of reach.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
The 20 turnovers are the most glaring problem, especially because they offset what was a strong assist night for the Thunder. Their 27 team assists were undermined by all of those turnovers, and as mentioned above, a number of them were unforced. They weren't the type where the Thunder were simply trying to do too much, but rather were things like sloppy ball handling, careless passes, and offensive fouls.
To contrast, the Hawks only had 10 turnovers on the night and even though nobody was lighting it up on offense, they got steady production from Horford, Teague, and Louis Williams. Their steady offensive focus was a stark contrast to the Thunder, who often looked like they were playing too fast to adequately set themselves up in the half-court to generate good shots.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
As stated above, I don't like the loss but I do value the fact that the Thunder need to examine themselves for how they are going to proceed in their offense this season. That examination has nothing to do with the bearded guy in Houston either, because this Durant evolution has been ongoing and we know that he wants to take on that kind of role. However, that is not the most efficient use of Durant's talents. To be sure it is a great for OKC to give a different look for defenses, with Durant running the point and Westbrook playing off-ball, but to marginalize Durant's offense to such a degree does everyone a disservice.
Losses are never fun, but the kinds of losses that have value are the ones that should show a team that they are doing something wrong and can correct it. Durant, Playmaker is a lot of fun to watch, but we need some more Durant, 30 point scorer-type games if OKC is going to regain its footing this season.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Martin, 28 points on 8-11 shooting, including 6-8 from 3-point range
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, who finally got on track with 14 points off 6-9 shooting and 3 blocks
Thunder Blunder: Kevin Durant, whose 6 turnovers offset 8 assists
Thunder Plunderer: Al Horford, 23 points, 11 rebounds, 6 offensive boards
Next game: vs Toronto Raptors on Tuesday, Nov. 6 at 7PM CDT
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