In what was perhaps their most impressive win of the entire season, the Oklahoma City Thunder took down the Eastern Conference leading Atlanta Hawks, 123-115. The win wasn't impressive just because it was convincing, but also because it came without franchise cornerstones Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Enes Kanter. Russell Westbrook led all scorers with 36 points, and registered his 9th career triple double. Dion Waiters wasn't far behind him, leading the second unit as if he was the second coming of James Harden. Dion would finish with 26, tieing his season high.
OKC's Bigs dominate
Nick Collison and Steven Adams were the unsung heroes of the Thunder's performance tonight. Though Waiters and Westbrook will dominate the headlines for their scoring prowess, Collison and Adams were both responsible for several key defensive stops throughout the game. The Hawks love to use mismatches to their advantage, thus making Collison and Adams responsible for defending opposing guards one on one. Both Collison and Adams fared rather well in mismatch situations, either forcing a miss or an outside shot.
OKC's other bigs fared less favorably. Perry Jones was a huge defensive liability. PJIII couldn't handle Horford or Milsap at all, and handled his mismatches with little grace. It wasn't long before Jones was subbed out for good. Mitch McGary also had similar troubles. McGary's on ball defense was more than passable, but his off-ball defense was poor. Milsap was constantly finding space, as McGary just doesn't keep good track of his man around screens. Offensively McGary had a couple of nice moments, showcasing his ability to run the floor as well as pick and pop. But McGary had his struggles on that end too, losing the ball four times.
Despite the poor play of OKC's bench bigs, OKC's bigs did come out as superior overall. Despite the role Atlanta's bigs played in keeping their team ahead, the Thunder's bigs generated more points in the paint and dominated the rebounding battle.
The Thunder's three point rennaissance
In the first half, the Thunder shot a dreadful 3-13 from three. In the second half, they shot a fantastic 10-17. I think all of the credit goes to Nick Collison. Once he was playing with the starters instead of McGary, the offense flowed a lot more fluently. This isn't as much a knock on McGary as it is a testament to the experience and IQ of Nick Collison. Collison did a seriously great job of setting screens, moving the ball, and even knocking down a couple of threes himself.
Of course, a few of the second half makes came with Collison off the floor, and I have to credit those to the defense-sucking presence of Russell Westbrook. A couple of the threes that Morrow took were ridiculously wide open, despite Morrow's awesomely quick release.
Westbrook and Waiters, shot creators
We all know about the shot creating ability of Russell westbrook, and it was on full display tonight. Russ worked in the pick and roll game a ton, as well as in the fast break and in isolation. Westbrook was in the game for the entire second half, though he took a break from running the offense while he would have normally been off the floor. In terms of distribution between quarters, the numbers are what you'd expect. Westbrook does well with the starters in the first quarter, lets off the gas a bit in the second and third, and then goes back into overdrive during the fourth. Also, his first quarter was much more passing focused than his fourth was, and Russ struggled a bit from the field in the third.
Dion Waiters didn't skip a beat all game. He began by constantly getting deep on Atlanta's defense, which the Hawks seemingly could do nothing to stop. Waiters had great quickness in navigating around screens, as well as excellent footwork while navigating through the Hawks' interior defense. The Hawks simply had no one that was quick enough to challenge Dion once he got around the screen. I also have to give note to Dion's defense, which was critical at various junctures. Perhaps most notable was a late on-ball steal and dunk Waiters accomplished on Dennis Schroeder. Waiters would also block Schroeder before the game was over as well.
- The Hawks attacked the basket with motion offense and isolation for their bigs, but just couldn't seem to find combinations that worked late in the game. The jumpshot was there all day for Atlanta, but I feel like mismatches were the heart of their offense.
- Both Mitch McGary and Andre Roberson had fast break buckets off of rebounds tonight.
- The Hawks really struggled with meeting big men in the paint, trying to rely on heavy pressure to get steals instead. As a result, OKC's pick and roll game was out in force all night. Waiters played a huge part in that, as did Westbrook.
- Steve Novak saw time tonight, and clanked his only three off the front rim. His defense was passable because he knew where to be, but the Hawks did take advantage of his slow speed for points.
- The Hawks took 9 more threes in the first half than in the second. I think it's because Atlanta had so much success moving players off the ball in the first half. OKC started switching on defense in the second half, enabling them to cover Atlanta's shooters more effectively. This encouraged the Hawks to take more inside shots and put more of the defensive onus on Collison and Adams.
- Let's not forget Westbrook's 6 Turnovers tonight. The arms of Teague and Schroeder are loooong!
- With the shot clock off, Dion Waiters begged Anthony Morrow to pass him the ball. Waiters obviously wanted to score, but Morrow wasn't going to let him. Morrow debated with Waiters on the court. Brooks said something to Waiters at center court immediately following the game. Here's what Brooks had to say about the incident in the post game press conference: "I told him, 'We're just going to have to keep working with you.'" Assumedly, Brooks' comment was completely unrelated to Waiters' calling for the ball at the end of the game. Instead, Brooks was moreso focused on Dion's good performance. Also assumedly, Waiters wanted to score because it would have made this game his season high. As it stands, Waiters' 26 is tied with his performance in Brooklyn on December 8th.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, because triple doubles make him stand alone
Thunder Down Under: Nick Collison, who basically generated all the points (Sorry Steven and Dion)
Thunder Blunder: Perry Jones III, whom will never be a good post defender unfortunately
Thunder Plunderer: Pero Antic, 22 points of wide open annoyance
Next Game: Versus the Miami Heat, Sunday, March 22nd, 2 PM Central Standard Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!