Slow Start by OKC Fuels Atlanta’s Lead
Game Recap: Thunder 93, Hawks 116
A solid 3-point shooting performance, a third-quarter burst by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a career-shooting night from Ty Jerome wouldn’t be enough to overcome the Hawks’ early double-digit lead on Thursday. It wasn’t the Thunder’s night offensively and the Hawks took advantage on the other end.
The Thunder dropped its second game of its four-game road trip as the squad was unable to connect on shots that it usually makes throughout the season–particularly in the paint.
Four and a half minutes into the game, all six of the Thunder’s points came from behind the arc with not a single point in the paint. By the end of the quarter, the Thunder only cashed in on two paint points compared to Atlanta’s 10.
“We needed to probably throw a better first punch to give ourselves a chance to compete and just couldn't really stabilize the game,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “Those missed looks didn't help, but we're certainly trying to finish those plays.”
Atlanta took advantage on the other end, bursting out into transition for layups on the other end after a missed bucket by the Thunder. The fast break opportunities only fueled Atlanta’s offense which was operating at an already efficient rate, shooting 52 percent from the field in the first half. For the night, the Hawks finished with 13 fast break points by converting all six of its looks on the break.
“Our transition defense wasn’t at its best. We’ve been pretty good guarding in transition and tonight that really hurt us,” said Thunder big man Al Horford. “They got a lot of confidence, got some dunks, got some 3s. We just didn’t do a good job of getting back.
While the Thunder’s usual looks inside the paint weren’t falling early on, its 3-point shooting kept it afloat and within arm’s reach. In fact, the Thunder started the game in the first quarter shooting 29 percent from the field but an efficient 56 percent from downtown.
The Thunder’s 3-point shooting spark came in the form of Ty Jerome and Théo Maledon who stepped into the game and cashed in on three consecutive triples to jumpstart the Thunder’s offense after falling behind by double-digits in the first quarter.
By the end of the night, the Thunder’s bench would once again provide major contributions with 43 points and three players in double-figures: Théo Maledon (10), Kenrich Williams (10) and Ty Jerome (18). It was a different look for the Thunder’s second unit as Maledon came off of the bench for the first time since February 24th for the Thunder and the newly acquired Svi Mykhailiuk made debut in a Thunder uniform. Even with the new faces and changing lineups, it was the fourth straight game where the Thunder’s reserves have logged three players in double figures and the third game out of the last four where they’ve finished with 40 or more points.
“It doesn’t matter who’s in there, they’re coming and they’re trying to set a tone,” said Thunder big man Al Horford. “It’s a credit to those guys for staying ready and when their number’s called they’ve shown that they can step up time after time.
Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan told the media before game that his group would need to wall off the paint against OKC’s Gilgeous-Alexander. In the first half, that’s exactly what they did. SGA’s driving lanes were stifled and the Hawks’ second line of defense with Capela and Collins provided an extra layer of protection around the rim. However, after going 1-for-9 from the field in the first half, the Thunder’s third-year guard flipped the script in the third quarter.
SGA came out on a burst as he went a perfect 6-of-6 from the field en route to a 15-point quarter which put the Thunder on a much-needed 10-2 run to start the half.
“In the second half I just tried to be more aggressive, really get to my spots, and just focus on that and then try to make the best play from there," said Gilgeous-Alexander.
However, Atlanta’s offense remained consistent and responded to the mini run with a 12-4 burst of its own. The surge was largely attributed to Bogdan Bogdanovic who finished with a game-high tying 23 points but cashed in 3-of-4 3-pointers in the third frame to help bolster Atlanta’s lead to 27.
Play of the Game
When the Thunder’s offense was flowing, it came as either a result of solid ball movement or after a solid stop on the defensive end. In this example, Al Horford demonstrates his unique versatility after snagging a steal on the defensive end and initiating is own one-man break for a transition 3-pointer on the other end.
Stat of the Night6
Contributing to the Thunder’s solid 3-point shooting all night was second-year guard Ty Jerome who connected on six 3-pointers on the way to a career-high 18 points. The six-of-eight performance from deep was also a career-high mark for the guard while marking his fourth consecutive game scoring double-digits – a career-high streak.
“The more he establishes himself as a threat behind the line, it’s going to open his game up and it’s going to open him up for our offense as well,” said Daigneault. “I was glad to see the shots fall tonight.”
"Just being myself, taking what the defense gives me, trusting the work I've put in, playing off guys like Shai” said Jerome. “We've got a team of guys that everyone does a unique thing, so it's just picking my spots and playing confident."
Quotes of the Night
“Our big thing every day is really just to get better. I think we have a lot we can get better from. We saw it tonight and we'll try to do so for next game."
“We have to continue to try to do it as a group and it's something that we did at times but it's something that we have to keep learning and we will continue to do it. We'll look at the film, definitely, and get better from this."
OKC will have a rare two days between games to rest and hit the practice floor before returning to action on Sunday. The Thunder will close out its four-game road trip with a back-to-back starting with a tilt in Houston on Sunday and a matchup against the Timberwolves on Monday.