Regular Season Recap - Thunder at Hawks
4 Assists by Nick Collison, part of the Thunder’s 20 assists on the night
5 Points for Jeremy Lamb during his five minutes of play
11 Assists for Russell Westbrook on the night for yet another double-double
14 Rebounds for Serge Ibaka tonight, including four on the offensive end
21 Points for Russell Westbrook in the first half. He finished with 27 total points
38.3 Shooting percentage allowed by the Thunder on the night
41 Points for Kevin Durant on the night, on 14-for-23 shooting
52 Rebounds for the Thunder, it's second highest total of the season and eight more than the Hawks
GAME IN REVIEW
By Nick Gallo, Thunder Basketball Writer
ATLANTA -- Blocked shots and steals can make for highlight plays, but the Thunder complements them with solid, stay-in-front defense.
In tonight’s 100-92 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, it was rare to see an opponent rise to take a jump shot without a Thunder hand in their face. Throughout the evening Thunder defenders like Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha hedged out to deny passes to shooters. All five Thunder players on the floor made sure to attack potential jumpshooters with a firm, under control close-out, then get a hand up to make the Hawks shoot over them.
“We contest shots, that’s what we do,” Head Coach Scott Brooks said. “We take pride in the defensive end of the floor. We take pride in staying in front of the ball and contesting shots. We’ve done a much better job rebounding. We just have to continue that recipe, and I think that’s always been (key to) our success.”
The Thunder jumped out to a 14-point halftime lead behind a nice run by the second unit late in the first quarter and early in the second quarter. The Hawks repeatedly charged back throughout the second half, cutting the Thunder’s lead to as few as four points but getting rebuked each time by the calm, collected Thunder squad. In the fourth quarter team leaders like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, stepped up, took charge and kept the Hawks at bay on both ends of the floor.
“Going into that fourth quarter it was getting very physical,” Brooks said. “I just told the guys we have to step up on the defensive end and manufacture some points that way. We talk about making winning basketball plays. That’s one of the things Kevin and Russell do. They’ve been doing it their entire careers. It’s not about them scoring, it’s about them making the right play.”
The All-NBA duo took turns taking over the game, with Westbrook dominating on multiple levels in the first half, then Durant closed the game out in spectacular fashion. Westbrook scored 21 points in the first 24 minutes of action, getting into the lane to create opportunities at the rim, but also knocking down multiple jump shots from the elbow area. His offensive versatility helped the Thunder jump out to a double-digit lead, then he focused on getting his teammates into the flow.
“He (Westbrook) was aggressive and they were giving him jumpshots,” Durant said. “They’d rather Russ take the jump shot than get in the paint, but he’s very great at both, and he utilized that in the first half and got us a nice little lead. We just played off of him. He was really good and it just opened it up for me in the second half.”
With Durant finding scoring opportunities slightly harder to come by early in the game, Westbrook recognized some opportunities to get the three-time scoring champion a few easy looks as the game progressed. Whether it was a nice pocket bounce pass off a Westbrook-Durant pick-and-roll that led to a dunk or getting the ball moving throughout the second half to help set up a Sefolosha-to-Durant trailing three-pointer that effectively put Durant in the zone. His 41 points were a Thunder season-high, and he got them on an efficient 23 shots.
“I think the best part about it is that my teammates wanted me to shoot, wanted me to take the tougher shots, wanted me to shoot over two people,” Durant said. “That always gives me confidence. I just try to go out there and come through for us.”
Lamb Steps Up:
An interesting sub-plot in this game came late in the first quarter, when the Thunder added rookie guard Jeremy Lamb to the rotation with the second unit. Joining Eric Maynor, Nick Collison, Kevin Martin and Hasheem Thabeet, Lamb played five effective minutes and, as Durant said after the game, provided the Thunder with a spark. He scored five points on 2-for-3 shooting, but more importantly played tough, smart defense that forced the Hawks into two turnovers.
“My teammates were looking for me and really were cheering me on,” Lamb said. “I was excited for the opportunity and just tried to do all I could… I’ve really been working with the coaches and they’ve really been helping me out. Today I was just able to do a little bit of it.”
The Thunder led by only five points, at 80-75 with 6:27 remaining in the game, and the Hawks seemed to be putting the pressure on. As usual, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club relied on its defense, and it started with Durant. After Russell Westbrook got free off a nice screen for a driving layup, Durant took on the challenge of defending Josh Smith in the post. He knocked the ball away, made a block, then knocked it away again. Nick Collison picked up the loose ball and kicked it to Westbrook, who then dropped a pass back to Durant who made a ferocious dunk with the foul. That five-point swing changed the game.
“Josh Smith is their go-to guy and I had the assignment of guarding him for a few minutes there,” Durant said. “I just tried to make it tough on him... I was able to get my hand on the ball a few times. Russell easily could have had a layup but he kicked it back to me for a dunk. I’m glad I finished the play and I’m glad that kind of gave us some momentum.”
Plays the box score won't show, first half:
Nice hustle by Westbrook to jump the passing lane when retreating to his man. Collison keeps fighting for an offensive rebound and eventually knocks it off an opponent. Jeremy Lamb shows some defensive instincts by forcing a turnover on a Josh Smith post-up, then being aware to grab a loose ball that a teammate poked away. Wonderful ball movement by Martin then Collison on a drive and dish to Lamb for three. Ibaka dives across the floor to pick up a loose ball and save it in bounds.
Plays the box score won't show, second half:
Nice job by Perkins to help out on a curl by Kyle Korver to prevent a pass from getting through. Great focus by Durant to keep his dribble low while going up floor, then managing to see Sefolosha open on the wing for a three. Great defensive awareness by Sefolosha to jump a curl by Korver and make a block. Collison tips an offensive rebound to keep the play alive and it falls into Durant’s hands for a layup.
“We knew when we had the good lead, we knew they were going to make a run. We just buckled down and defensively didn’t (let them) get many easy looks.” – Head Coach Scott Brooks