High-level ball movement and pushing the pace in transition opened the door for the Thunder to build up a commanding lead over the Hawks. Despite Atlanta cutting the lead to single digits in the fourth quarter, contributions from each player on the floor allowed the Thunder to walk away with the win.
The Thunder scored over 30 points in each of the first three quarters, shot above 50 percent from the field for the game and dished out 31 total assists. In short, the Thunder’s offense was humming at a high level.
“I thought that was the epitome of guys playing with pace, creating advantages for each other and spraying the ball around to find the open man,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault.
The biggest factor in the Thunder’s offensive rhythm against the Hawks was its high-level ball movement as it dished out 19 assists in the first half alone. Leading the assist column was Thunder guard Ty Jerome in his Thunder debut. Jerome was recalled from the Thunder’s G-league affiliate, OKC Blue just the day before where he was assigned after missing a large portion of the Thunder’s early season with an ankle sprain. In Orlando, Jerome worked his way back to full-health and was able to contribute at a high-level appearing in nine games and averaged 12 points on 24 minutes per night.
In his first 12 minutes in a Thunder uniform, Jerome immediately made a splash on the floor as he seamlessly fit into the flow of the Thunder’s offense with four points, six assists and a steal. By the end of the night, Jerome notched a new record for most assists in a Thunder debut with seven.
“I think it's just a really good anecdote for us developmentally,” said Daigneault. “The best part about it is it wasn't easy and most of the credit goes to Ty because he's the one doing the work, but that's the type of stuff that as a program we take a ton of pride in.”
“Ty’s a basketball player. You can stick him anywhere with any lineup and he’s going to mesh well,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “He can shoot, pass, put on the floor and do so many things that it's easy for him to blend in and look good and you guys saw that tonight and he really elevated our play tonight.”
Thunder rookie point guard Théo Maledon also made massive contributions to the Thunder’s assist column as he tied an OKC rookie record with 12 dimes. Maledon served as a massive facilitator in the Thunder’s offense as he took advantage of transition opportunities to push the pace and find his teammates.
“I tried to push the ball as much as possible and it opened up a lot of wide-open teammates and they made the right choice,” said Maledon in his postgame interview with FOX Sports Oklahoma.
The only area where the Thunder suffered against the Hawks was on the offensive glass. Atlanta’s big man Clint Capela proved to be a menace on the boards as he racked up a game-high 21 rebounds and nine on the offensive end. He was the spark that allowed the Hawks to outrebound the Thunder 54 to 39 and would play a major factor down the stretch as Atlanta looked to comeback from down 17.
Despite building up a lead of as many as 17 in the third quarter, Atlanta clawed its way back to make it a six-point game in the fourth quarter. It was a 12-4 run fueled by second chances on offense. The Hawks finished the night with 19 offensive rebounds, eight of which came in the fourth quarter alone. The second looks at the rim opened up the door for ATL to climb back into the driver’s seat in the final two and a half minutes.
However, in addition to the Thunder’s shot making on Friday, its disciplined defense held the Hawks’ leading scorer in Trae Young to a manageable 17 points (10 below his average) on just 7-of-21 shooting and 3-of-9 from the 3-point line. In the fourth frame, Young was limited to just four attempts, all of which were from the 3-point line and he only converted on one. Even more, Young finished the night without a single trip to the foul line. As a player who is third the league in free throw attempts per night, the Thunder’s emphasis on clean, disciplined defense was executed to perfection.
“Be aggressive without fouling,” said Gilgeous-Alexander who finished with a team-high 24 points. “A lot of good scorers in this league generate points and rhythm like that. We just didn't want them to have too many trips to the free throw line. That was a big emphasis.”
Play of the Game
Atlanta brought the game down to nine points multiple times throughout the fourth quarter including with 1:40 remaining in the game. It was a point in the game that could have been considered a critical juncture had it not been for the dazzling play that sent the game back up to double figures.
Darius Bazley received a pass from Maledon as Atlanta’s aggressive defense looked to snatch a steal. As he squared up to the rim, Bazley gave one quick pass fake to the corner that sent two defenders out of position. Suddenly the lane was completely vacant for the second year forward to attack the rim. As he elevated, Bazley brought the ball down for a brief moment to avoid the outstretched arms of John Collins but still had enough hang time to finish of the dunk and force Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce to call a timeout.
“I think, honestly, it was just instinct for Baze. I call him a freak of nature but he's just a freak athlete,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “He just made a regular basketball play for Baze, which is kind of crazy.”
Stat of the Night
Between the assists, the shooting percentages and odd number of uniforms, Friday’s game featured a gamut of stats that are worthy of the limelight.
Quotes of the Night
“I think this is our best game as far as getting everybody else involved and playing real team basketball.”-Kenrich Williams “Playing fast like that, getting stops and moving the ball, it creates a lot of energy. It was really fun.”
The Thunder will close out its grueling stretch of five games in seven days on Saturday as the squad hosts Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets on the second night of a back-to-back. The game will air on FOX Sports Oklahoma at 7 p.m. CT and on WWLS 98.1 FM The Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network.