The Oklahoma City Thunder fell to the Atlanta Hawks on the road, 106-100. The Thunder were riding a 4 game winning streak, but could not make it a 5th win in a row due to uneven play, poor shooting, and superior playmaking by the Hawks down the stretch. OKC trailed for nearly the nearly the entire game before taking a late game lead, only to see the Hawks close out the game on a 14-4 run to seal it. The Thunder drop to 11-7 on the season.
The Thunder were led by Russell Westbrook, who finished with 34 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists, but committed 6 turnovers. Kevin Durant finished with 25 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 blocks. The Hawks were led by Jeff Teague, who finished with 25 points, including the go-ahead basket with 1:08 remaining in the game.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
The Thunder had been showing much growth over the past two weeks, especially since getting Durant back into the fold, so this loss was a reminder that there is still a long ways to go. The game presents two sides of the same coin.
On one side, the Thunder got beat by a team that once again stunned OKC out of the gate, racing out to a 24-11 lead behind deft passing and superior big man play behind Al Horford and Paul Millsap. Steven Adams in particular had a tough go against the Hawks big men, and in the end Adams only recorded 2 rebounds and no points in 14 minutes.
The Hawks did a great job of keeping OKC at arm's length for most of the night, using well-timed scoring runs and smart defensive sets to keep the Thunder off-balance. It seemed like every time OKC mounted a run, the Hawks made a good defensive play to curb the momentum and then turned around and pushed the lead back up to 7-8 points.
On the other, more positive side of the coin, the Thunder managed to stay in the game despite shooting a woeful 39.8% from the floor. Even worse, the Thunder bench finished a combined 7-31 from the field, which included 0-7 from Dion Waiters and 3-12 from Anthony Morrow. Why is this positive? Because the Thunder were still generating good shots on offense. They simply weren't connecting. Morrow in particular received a number of good looks both from beyond the arc as well as in the lane, but the shots simply didn't fall.
Furthermore, Westbrook in particular did a solid job staying under control even as the team struggled and his own shots weren't falling. Instead, he bid his time and then in the 4th quarter personally accounted for 21 of the Thunder's 25 points through either points or assists. Even though Teague was able to get the better of Westbrook in the end, he helped set up his team for a chance to win, even giving them a 4 point lead with 2:21 remaining.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder lost?
If the Thunder and Westbrook were so good down the stretch, why did they lose? Unfortunately, sometimes the other team makes the better plays.
In the span of less than a minute, the Hawks made 3 outstanding defensive plays:
- Coming out of a timeout and tied at 96-all, the Thunder designed a very nice looking play that set up Ibaka for a wide open dunk. Except Millsap made an even better block from behind, denying OKC the chance to retake the lead.
- Down by 2, the Thunder isolated Durant on the right wing where he had a lane to the rim, only to be challenged into a tough shot by Millsap, who caused the miss.
- With one more chance to tie, Thabo Sefolosha, the long tenured Thunder shooting guard who signed with the Hawks last year, stripped/blocked Westbrook's scoring attempt with 38 seconds remaining.
Thunder critics might look to the 4th quarter and wonder why it once again turned into a Westbrook-dominated feature, especially since Durant had nobody guarding him who could contend with his shot-making. It is a valid observation, but in the 4th, it isn't fair to put that burden on Westbrook. He watched his team struggle and found himself getting hot at the right time. With the exception of his final forced 3-point attempt, Westbrook repeatedly generated good looks for himself, Serge Ibaka, and Durant.
Sometimes, the other team makes the play.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, for nearly single-handedly giving OKC the lead in the 4th
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, the most consistent Thunder scorer on the night and defensive stalwart
Thunder Blunder: Dion Waiters, 0-7 shooting.
Thunder Plunderer: Jeff Teague, hit the go-ahead basket and sealed the deal in the end.
Next game: @ Miami Heat on 12/3 at 6PM CDT