I have to admit, I’m loving this newfound “edge” the Thunder have been playing with. It’s like Sekou Smith said in his NBA Hang Time Blog, the fun and games are over for the Thunder. They have a chip on their shoulder, and they’re playing like a team with something to prove.
Keep in mind, the Atlanta Hawks are no slouch team. Not even a full week ago, as the Blazers were in the midst of erasing the Thunder’s 11-point halftime lead, the Hawks took it to a very game Clippers squad in Atlanta, beating them by 10, with a score of 107-97 at the final buzzer. Don’t let the 11-10 record fool you. This Hawks team plays hard. Another factor for the Thunder was that they would be playing without Thabo Sefolosha, who was dealing with a strained right knee.
The Hawks’ hard play I was referring to earlier showed in the 1st quarter. It was all back-and-forth, as quarter #1 featured 10 lead changes and 4 ties. The Thunder’s largest lead in the quarter was 3, and the largest lead for the Hawks was 2. The 1st even ended all knotted up at 21.
It was towards the end of the 2nd quarter that the Thunder started to pull away. The closed the first half on a 9-3 run that started with just under 3 minutes to play in the half. That run extended the Thunder’s lead to 9 by halftime (48-39).
The 3rd quarter saw the Hawks trying to play catch-up to no avail. An 8-0 Thunder run started at the 9:37 mark of the third quarter had extended their lead further (60-49), and the Thunder even had the Hawks down by 15 (72-57), with just under 3:00 to play in the 3rd. A Thunder victory seemed all but certain when the Hawks closed the 3rd quarter on an 11-0 run that whittled the Thunder lead down to a mere 6 (74-68). Although the Thunder would score a quick basket as time expired in the third, they were only clutching an 8-point lead (76-68), heading into the 4th.
The 4th didn’t start too kindly for the Thunder. The Hawks sparked another run, this one a 7-2 run, that had brought them to within striking distance (78-75). However, the Thunder immediately responded with an 10-0 run of their own that had extended the Thunder lead back out to 13 (88-75) with 7:04 left in the game. The Hawks started getting really scrappy towards the end, even getting back within striking distance, as they cut the Thunder lead to a mere 3 (95-92) with 2:06 left in regulation. However, Shelvin Mack’s jump shot off of the Paul Millsap assist would be the last points the Hawks would score that evening. The Thunder closed the game on a 6-0 run to win by the final score of 101-92. The Thunder improve to 16-4 with the win, as the Hawks fall to 11-11.
Kevin Durant put up yet another 30-point, 10-rebound double-double performance. Serge Ibaka is becoming a double-double machine, as he posted his 10th of the season with 19 points and 10 boards of his own. Russell Westbrook actually flirted with the triple-double last night. Even though he didn’t have the greatest shooting night, he still contributed 14 points, 11 assists, and 9 rebounds. And, as is usually the case, Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb came up big from the Thunder bench once again. Jackson dropped 13 points and Lamb scored 11.
Paul Millsap easily had the most impressive numbers for the Hawks, with 23 points and 12 rebounds. Jeff Teague added 17 points, and although Al Horford was only good for 7 points, he did contribute 10 boards. And in a bit of a surprise, Shelvin Mack comes off of the bench and scores a career-high 17 points off of 7-of-9 shooting, including 3 3-pointers.
Let’s hope the Thunder continue to play with this same intensity as they travel to FedEx Forum in Memphis, TN to take on the Grizzlies. I see no reason the Thunder let up here, seeing as it was the Grizzlies who ousted the Thunder from last year’s playoffs. This time, however, there won’t be a Russell Westbrook absence to take advantage of. Not only that, but the Grizzlies will be the ones short-handed tonight, as Marc Gasol is out indefinitely with a left MCL sprain. The game tips off at 7pm CST, and will be broadcast via Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.