Electric Thunder Comes Alive Against Hawks - OKC 113, ATL 94

TULSA – Russell Westbrook was up on the sideline encouraging Steven Adams with a chorus of “Keep working him!”. Paul George shot his hands up straight into the air to remind Tim Luwawu-Cabbarot to maintain legal guarding position. Billy Donovan called timeout to get the group together for a quick conversation. There was a lot of teaching to be done on Sunday afternoon for the Thunder at the BOK Center.

Gradually, the lessons started to sink in, and Head Coach Billy Donovan’s group got it going. Dennis Schröder took the ball to the corner and burst ahead baseline for a slick finish at the rim. Paul George soared into the air with an outstretched arm to steal a cross-court pass, then pushed it up court for a dribble-up three-pointer. When in the run of play, the Thunder began to look like the Thunder.

“We needed to come out of the locker room with energy and focus, and those guys did that,” Donovan said.

“With us, the big emphasis is complacency,” George added. “Whoever we’re playing, we have to have a real approach to every game, every opportunity, every possession. I thought we did that. We stuck together. Especially coming out in the second half, we raised the level.”

However, in a 113-94 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in the team’s third preseason game of the year, the Thunder (2-1 in preseason) and their opposition were whistled for a combined 63 fouls, as the NBA attempts to demonstrate the new rules and points of emphasis for the upcoming 2018-19 regular season campaign.

“We have to do a better job of adjusting in terms of keeping our hands off of people and not fouling, and we did too much of that tonight,” Donovan said.

“We’re still learning the points of emphasis and the refs are learning it as well. They gotta change the way they look at the game as well,” center Steven Adams said. “Regardless, mate, this is the best time to call them or play around with them, even for us, just to try to get used to whatever they’re calling.”

One third quarter possession captured it all. After George knocked down a free throw for a defensive three seconds call on Atlanta, he was fouled coming around a screen on an in-bounds play, which awarded the him yet another free throw. On the ensuing Thunder possession, the ball skipped around the court until George found himself marooned behind the three-point line at the slot. He caught the ball and splashed it through. One possession, 25 seconds, 5 Paul George points.

The Thunder followed up that possession by forcing a shot clock violation, then George made the play of the afternoon by tipping in an alley-oop pass from Schröder with just the fingers on his left hand. The loyal Tulsa crowd erupted after that one, and the Thunder was off to the races for good.

“I’m getting older. I don’t know who Dennis thought he was throwing that to,” George chuckled. “But I was able to get a hand on it.”

George scored 16 of his 22 total points on the night in the third quarter alone, when the Thunder outscored the Hawks 35-16, going 10-of-23 from the field while forcing Atlanta into 4-of-19 shooting in the quarter. The Thunder dominated the glass by 8 in the period as well, showing to Donovan that even without Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson at present, there’s an explosiveness possible with this group.

Outside of the Thunder’s stars in George, Schröder and Steven Adams, there were a few other players who raised eyebrows in this performance. Alex Abrines scored 10 points on three field goal attempts in 12 first half minutes, knocking down a pair of three-pointers, looking like the player who became a reliable two-way option for the Thunder in the 2018 postseason.

Rookie Hamidou Diallo again was impressive, utilizing his athleticism, tenacity and intelligence to make plays, garnering more minutes after starter Terrance Ferguson went down with concussion-like symptoms. Sure, as a 20-year old, Diallo will have moments like when he hesitated on a cut to the rim. But he made up for it by receiving the pass from a posted-up George and turning the corner quickly to attack the rim to draw a foul. Diallo was aggressive on the glass in keeping loose balls alive and finished both at the rim and at the charity stripe as he chipped in 13 points and 5 rebounds.

“It’s moreso his discipline of what he’s picked up off training camp,” Adams said of Diallo. “His cuts, routes, knowing plays, his loading on the defensive end. It’s been good. He’s picked it up fast, especially for a new guy, a rookie.”

As the Thunder transitions from Sunday’s dominant victory into Tuesday’s final preseason game of the season, the coaching staff will keep evaluating and finding opportunities for players to find their roles.

Highlights: Thunder Tops Hawks

By the Numbers

9-for-14 – Shooting numbers for point guard Dennis Schröder, who racked up 20 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists in 27 minutes

38.0 - Shooting percentage for the Hawks, thanks in most part to a dominant second half defensive performance

57 - Points by the Thunder’s bench on the night, including 13 for Hamidou Diallo and 10 for Alex Abrines

The Final Word

“We were physical, maybe too physical with the foul shots we gave up - both teams were. We did a really good job in that third quarter, we were active with our hands and we were disruptive.” – Head Coach Billy Donovan