The Oklahoma City Thunder got rocked on the road by the Atlanta Hawks, 142-126. A game after correcting enough of their defensive mistakes in defeating the Spurs, the Thunder showed little continuity in playing a Hawks team that was previously 13-30, though with earlier wins this season over the 76ers and Nuggets.
The Thunder were led by Jerami Grant, who finished with 21 on 9-14 shooting, and Steven Adams, who finished 7-7 and recorded 16 points. Russell Westbrook finished with a solid 31 points on 10-21 shooting, including 11-14 from the free throw line, to go along with 11 assists and 5 steals, but Paul George struggled with his shot, hitting only 6-18 for 24 points, including 5-12 from three.
However, even those respectable production numbers paled in comparison to what the youthful Hawks were able to do against a flummoxed Thunder defense, a defense so similar to my spaghetti colander that it helped make the Hawks kids look like the Warriors. Overall, the Hawks shot 62% for the game, 18-37 from three, and tallied 36 assists. Which essentially tells you everything you need to know about the Thunder’s defensive effort. They couldn’t stop the Hawks on the inside (68 points in the paint) or the outside (49% from three). They couldn’t shut down the starters, as John Collins led the way with 26 on 12-14 shooting, primarily on alley-oops and open layups, and they were hurt by the bench, which combined for 47 points, led by Alex Len’s 24.
Here’s a pain point — OKC gave up 45 points in a quarter twice tonight (for math nerds, that is 90 points in half a game). And one of those was in the 4th, when they were outscored by 19 (Hawks shot 70% in the 4th, 5-7 from three). Yes, they lost by 16 after leading by three at the end of the third to a 13 win team.
Here’s another pain point — remember how outrageously hot the Spurs offense was on that 2OT classic last week? The Spurs finished with an absurd 130 in regulation on their way to 154 points. Tonight? The Hawks hung out 142 in regulation.
How about another? — OKC is 1-4 in their last five, giving up an average of 133 points per game in those 4 losses. If you take out the ahem outlier 2OT game, they still gave up an average of 126, and all of which were to teams with losing records.
Last one — Since Christmas Day, the Thunder are 5-6, with 4 of those losses coming to teams that will likely be in the lottery.
In other words, it’s fun to proclaim the Thunder are the top defensive team in the league by whatever metric you choose, but regardless of what the stats say, they have been getting shredded for nearly three weeks straight, and one or two quarters of getting it right isn’t enough to make up for the quarters when they’re giving just about any team in the league free reign to create a point differential that OKC — not a good offensive team — will always struggle to make up.
And perhaps that is the most disappointing thing about tonight. The Hawks, who deserve all the credit, because they still had to make those shots even though many were uncontested, rely on their pace and athleticism to create margin. The Thunder simply can’t play at that pace if they want to be able to set up their defense. Similar to the Wizards disaster, too often they rushed their offense and gave their defense no time to slow down the other team.
OKC let the Hawks dictate the pace, and they were beaten badly for it.
Next game: vs Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, Jan. 17th at 8:30PM CST
p.s. But seriously, nice game Hawks. Lots of promise there, I hope it keeps meshing, and if I was following the other side, that would have been a fantastic ride to enjoy.