Just two days after one of the most dominant wins of the season for the Oklahoma City Thunder, they looked as if they might do it again. Hosting the Atlanta Hawks, the NBA’s worst team by record, the Thunder got off to a rough start.
In the first quarter, the Oklahoma City offense looked about as good as it has in recent memory. The Thunder shot 11/22 (50%) in the opening period thanks to team ball. Carmelo Anthony led the way early for Oklahoma City with six points by hitting his two attempts from three, while Russell Westbrook added four points and four assists, Steven Adams threw in five points and five rebounds, and Paul George had four points.
The defense, however, was another story. So far this season, the Thunder’s defense has been one of the best in the league, but tonight, they were unable to get stops early. Atlanta also shot 11/22 (50%) to start the game, and after the first quarter, the Thunder and the Hawks were all tied up at 28-28.
The second quarter was a different story. Oklahoma City’s defense finally started to lock in, and after averaging 10 steals per game so far this season, the Thunder were able to snag 10 takeaways by the half tonight. The defense was dominant, and that propelled the offense into more success.
Carmelo Anthony continued his hot shooting for the night by going 3/5 from the field, including 2/3 from three, to put him up to 14 points for the first half. Paul George also shot well, knocking down two threes and two free throws, to bring his first half tally to 12 points. Westbrook added in six points and four assists to bring his totals to 10 points and eight assists. Raymond Felton showed up big coming off the bench knocking down two clutch threes, and for the half, the Thunder shot 9/13 (69%) from deep. Between the lockdown defense and stellar offense, Oklahoma City held a 64-50 halftime lead over Atlanta.
Oklahoma City regressed in the third quarter, and unfortunately, it looked like all too familiar territory. The Thunder defense could not get a stop for anything, and the offense looked lost trying to find a bucket. Marco Belinelli led the way for the Hawks by racking up eight points in the third alone to bring his tally for the night to 22, and with only one period left to play, the Oklahoma City’s lead had diminished to 83-82.
Coming into tonight’s game, Oklahoma City led the league in clutch wins for the month of December with a record of 7-1. While it is never a good thing to be in a close matchup with arguably the league’s worst team, finishing the game with a win is important all the same.
Less than three minutes into the final period, the Hawks tied up the game and then took the lead, which they held for less than a minute. The Thunder managed to take back over, and despite Atlanta’s best efforts, Oklahoma City was able to hold on to the very end.
It was the Russell Westbrook show in the fourth quarter as he racked up 14 points on 4/5 (80%) from the field and 5/5 (100%) from the free throw line, as well as three assists and three rebounds. With 11 seconds left in the game, Ersan Ilyasova hit two free throws to tie up the game at 117-117. Following a Thunder timeout, Russell Westbrook took the inbounds pass, and as the clock wound down, he put up a shot from deep to put the Thunder up by three with just two seconds left.
Unable to get a good look, Atlanta put up a half-court shot which was no good, and Oklahoma City escaped with a 120-117 win to move two games above .500 for the first time all season.
3 Quick Thoughts
- The Offense is Clicking: While Utah and Atlanta are not exactly a great measuring stick, the Thunder offense appears to be coming into its own. While it has taken quite a bit of time, shots seem to be falling more regularly, and despite a couple of dry spells, Oklahoma City was able to shoot over 50% from the field for the second game in a row, and most notably is Russell Westbrook’s shooting from the field lately. Over the last four games, Westbrook has shot 47/76 (61.8%), and his efficiency has been a leading cause for the Thunder’s success. Along with Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony is playing a lot better over the last couple of games, shooting 42% from the field and 53% from three. Tonight, Melo shot 7/12 (58.2%) from three, which tied a Thunder record for most threes in a game. If Oklahoma City’s offense can continue at this pace, opposing defenses should approach with caution.
- The Defense Struggled: Aside from an incredible second quarter, the Thunder defense was pretty awful tonight. Marco Belinelli looked like Kobe Bryant at times as he hit fadeaway three after fadeaway three on his way to 27 points on 10/18 (55.6%) shooting. Ersan Ilyasova, who played three games for the Thunder a season ago, put up 22 points on 7/10 (70%) from the field, and Malcolm Delaney tallied 20 points on 7/10 (70%) shooting. Despite the Hawks missing their unequivocal leader in Dennis Schroder, Atlanta was able to keep it close and even threaten with the lead for moments of the game. While tonight’s performance was not typical for Oklahoma City’s defense, they should use it as a learning moment on what NOT to do moving forward.
- An Identity is Forming: The problem with this team for most of the season has been a lack of identity. Too many guys were unsure as to what their role should be, but lately, those responsibilities have begun to fall into place appropriately. Russell Westbrook has emerged as the alpha of alphas, and he’s wearing it well. He’s shooting as good as he has in a long time, but he’s still distributing the ball effectively. Also, his defense has been superb the last few games. Carmelo Anthony and Paul George are still learning at what specific pace they should play, but ultimately, they feed off of Westbrook, and for the most part, it’s been successful. Steven Adams has continued to be a force down low, while Andre Roberson has looked respectable on offense while maintaining his rigid defense. The bench is nothing to call home about, but pretty much every game, someone is able to step up and make plays, like Raymond Felton and Jerami Grant did tonight as they combined to put up 18 points on 8/10 (80%) shooting.
Headed to Utah
For the second time in 72 hours, the Thunder will take on the Jazz in Utah tomorrow night. Oklahoma City leads the season series 2-1, and the most decisive game was on Wednesday night as the Thunder destroyed the Jazz 107-79. The game will tip off at 7 PM and will be televised on FSOK. It will also be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM.
Be sure to check out this week’s episode of Thunder Things with the Thunder Guys.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter & Instagram, and give us a like on Facebook.