The Thunder were able to pull away from the Hawks in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, winning 107-94. Kevin Durant had his first triple-double of the season, evoking the MVP performances from a couple of years ago. Most impressive was the efficient shooting, with Durant going 8 of 14 overall. The Thunder got Durant the ball on the elbow most of the night, allowing him to work off of screens. Former teammate Thabo Sefolosha got the task of guarding Durant, and he simply wasn't long enough to affect Durant's shot. Whenever the Hawks tried to double Durant around a screen, he'd dump it to Ibaka or Westbrook. Lastly, Durant was able to do his usual work in transition.
Russell Westbrook had a double-double himself, registering 23 points and 10 assists with only 2 turnovers. The Hawks matched Teague up with Westbrook initially. Westbrook used his size to get inside for a few assists. The Hawks tried to compensate, using Bazemore against Westbrook instead. But Bazemore's lack of speed made Westbrook more deadly as a shooter around screens. Teague was quickly switched back onto Westbrook for the rest of the game. This meant Russ was in attack mode for much of the third quarter, though he largely deferred to Durant and Ibaka in the fourth quarter.
How did the Thunder win this game?
After the Thunder took a four point lead at the first timeout break, they managed to hold onto that lead for the rest of the game. The main time the game came under threat was the late third quarter. The Hawks managed to hit four threes in just under two and a half minutes, and brought the game to within 1. It wasn't a big breakdown on the Thunder's part, as the Hawks were simply finding threes by getting mismatches. The Thunder responded with some really aggressive play, attacking the rim with Durant and Westbrook. Defensively, the Thunder continued to focus on protecting the paint. Eventually, the Hawks shooting fire ran out, and Dion Waiters found his groove at exactly the right time. The Thunder were able to carry a sizeable lead throughout the fourth, and relied heavily on Durant late.
Why did the Thunder win this game?
There wasn't anything revolutionary about the way OKC played. It was simply a game where Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka all were able to get the shots they wanted. Durant and Westbrook weren't hounded by any all-world defenders, and could read the defense easily around screens. Meanwhile, Ibaka and the rest of the Thunder were able to space the floor and take advantage of when the Hawks tried to pressure.
Of course, the Thunder's big three were similarly successful at scoring against the Hawks back on November 30th. But the Thunder lost that game. So you really have to look at the Thunder's defense as the reason why they won this game. And Steven Adams is responsible for that defensive uptick. Adams played 31 minutes tonight, compared to just 14 minutes on November 30th. Furthermore, Adams matchup, Al Horford, was only able to shoot 3 of 14 from the floor tonight. Back on November 30th, when Adams played less, Horford was able to shoot 8 of 15.
Another reason for the better defense: Morrow and Kanter played less.
More frustrating Dion Waiters play
Dion Waiters had positive plays in the Thunder's late third and early fourth quarter run. But it's hard to say this was a positive game for Dion. I mean, look at some of the shots he missed.
Wide open from the corner. This shot didn't go in because Dion didn't set his feet.
This shot was msised because it was taken off-balance after a behind the back dribble. Collison is open.
This shot was missed because Dion was doubled and ignored the wide open Ibaka on the wing.
Here, Waiters misses a stepback. This happens because Waiters completely ignored a screen from Enes Kanter, about two seconds before this freeze was taken.
Waiters is pulling up for an off-balance three early in the shot clock when his team has no shot at a rebound.
I hate to be so negative, but Waiters was a real black hole tonight. 14 shots and only 1 assist? That should explain it all. But I could also point to Nick Collison and D.J. Augustin, who combined for a grand total of 1 shot in 20 combined minutes. I understand that someone has to be a spark off of the bench, and that Dion is a very skilled player. But he's got to figure out how to work with the bench.
- Serge Ibaka did exactly what we needed him to do tonight. It's nice when Ibaka can play his natural position of power forward. Ibaka is clearly more comfortable as a help defender in the paint, and doesn't seem to have much trouble getting open against opposing power forwards. Furthermore, Ibaka's ability to set screens can really take advantage of opposing stretch fours who can't defend the pick and roll.
- Roberson had a pretty uneventful night. Two turnovers weren't nice, but he had an assist and got to the line once. Meh.
- Enes Kanter came into the game with so much energy, scoring on two straight possessions via a Westbrook pick and roll. The points were so effortless that I thought Kanter was in for a big night. But Kanter proceeded to hardly play the rest of the game. And even when Kanter did play, all he did was lose the ball once and get stuffed at the rim three times. I wish Kanter would have exercised a bit of patience instead of just trying to bulldoze his way in.
- Steven Adams scored the Thunder's first 6 points, feeding off of Westbrook's energy. Adams also led off the third quarter with a slam on the pick and roll. But as I mentioned above, Adams' role tonight was primarily defensive.
- D.J. Augustin drew a couple of fouls at one point and kept things moving, but wasn't hugely notable overall.
- Anthony Morrow did his usual thing of spacing the perimeter all game. Quiet first half, but came on strong towards the end of the third and start of the fourth. Hit back to back threes, got some attention on the perimeter, and used that to get a quick cut to the basket.
- Tough miss on Nick Collison's one layup. Otherwise, Collison was mostly just out there setting screens and moving the ball.
- Jeff Teague had the best night for the Hawks, and I do pin some of that on Westbrook. But really, the Thunder's strategy seemed to be to let Teague shoot, and a lot of what Teague managed to get was in transition.
- Horford shot just 1 of 8 from mid-range, a testament to Ibaka's defense.
- Gotta love Ibaka's "Perk tribute" tonight. In case you don't know, Ibaka held the follow through after one of his jumpers like Perk used to. Ibaka looked a lot more elegant doing it, but it was hilarious and touching nonetheless.
- By the way, here's Westbrook's best slam.
- It was the first time in Thunder history that Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant had at least 20 points and 10 assists.
- KD made his thousandth three today! Woo hoo!
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, who must get in the All-Star game
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook, assist master
Thunder Blunder: Dion Waiters, who clearly needs some yoga or tai chi or something to correct his balance
Thunder Plunderer: Jeff Teague, the in-between machine
Next Game: Versus the Utah Jazz, Friday, December 11th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!