Thunder at Atlanta Hawks Game Recap – Nov. 30, 2015

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

ATLANTA – It wasn’t due to a hot shooting night or a cavalcade of fast break points off of turnovers, but with under three minutes remaining, the Thunder had managed to claw back from a 16-point deficit to take its first lead since 2-0.

Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club thought it had pulled off a dramatic comeback to kick off a two-game road swing, but the Atlanta Hawks had other ideas, using an 8-0 run in the final two minutes to hold on for a 106-100 victory.

On the back of Russell Westbrook’s 17 fourth quarter points, out of a total of 26 for the Thunder as a whole, Donovan’s group grinded its way to made baskets and free throws to keep the scoreboard moving.

“Russell carried us offensively in that fourth quarter,” Donovan said. “We just couldn’t make some shots and finish some plays that we needed to.”

“I was just trying to keep us in the game and taking the opportunities they gave me and trying to find a way to win,” Westbrook said of his fourth quarter. “I read the coverages and see how teams are guarding. A lot of times they’re going under me and I just tried to find a way to get to the mid-range and get a shot up.”

The defense in the final period, and really the final 27 minutes of action, was mostly excellent, as the Thunder held the potent Atlanta offense to just 42.7 percent shooting from the field and 14 turnovers that led to 14 points. Two crucial driving layups by Jeff Teague ended up being the difference, however, meaning that two defensive breakdowns ended up unraveling what was an outstanding effort.

Unfortunately, after letting a deficit grow in the first half, it was just barely too little, too late for the Thunder on the night. After scoring the game’s first basket, the Thunder allowed Atlanta to rattle off eight straight points, and ultimately the Hawks would take an 18-6 lead by mid-way through the first quarter.

“We just put ourselves in a bad position,” Westbrook said. “When were really locked in and ready to play, we had a chance to win the game. We just put ourselves in a little hole and had to fight back.”

The Thunder’s offense simply couldn’t get going through ball movement or individual attacking, and on defense, the team seemed to be chasing the play against the balanced Hawks attack. It was a good lesson for the Thunder early in the season with regard to the importance of every single possession of the game, even early in the game when both sides are feeling out the pace and tempo of the contest.

While the effort was there all night, too many points were left on the board and too few stops were made by the Thunder early on to get the game off on the right foot, leaving the team with too tall of a hill to climb in its comeback attempt.

“We did some good things but I think there are some plays we would have liked to have gotten back,” Donovan explained. “We certainly dug ourselves a hole and showed some resiliency and some fight to get ourselves back into the game.”

Thunder Highlights:

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Second Quarter Rally

This game wasn’t looking good for the Thunder at all through the first 21 minutes of action. After going small late in the second quarter with a lineup of Westbrook, Anthony Morrow, Dion Waiters, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, however, the Thunder managed to carry all of the momentum into the halftime locker room.

An 18-3 run over the final 2:54 was spurred on by excellent team defense and crisp pace and tempo on the offensive end. The burst started with an Ibaka three-point play and a Durant runner to the rim after a Westbrook steal. The Hawks would respond with a three-pointer but didn’t score the rest of the half thanks to two Ibaka blocks and a shot clock violation.

“We were being physical,” Westbrook said of the burst. “When we’re physical and get stops, there aren’t many teams that can score on us when we’re doing what we’re supposed to do.”

From there, the Thunder rattled off 13 straight points behind five free-throws by Durant and Westbrook, an Ibaka dunk, a Westbrook three-point play and a Durant to Morrow transition three-pointer for good measure. What had been a 16-point Atlanta lead was reduced to 53-52, in a flash.  

“We didn’t want to start the game that way, but the last three minutes of the second quarter we got to the free throw line, we got the ball to the deep paint and we got fouled and we were able to cut the lead to one,” Donovan said.

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By the Numbers

17 -  Fourth quarter points for Russell Westbrook, a part of his 34-point, 11-rebound, 7-assist performance

18-3 – Run by the Thunder to end the second quarter to overcome a 16-point deficit

23-13 – The Thunder’s advantage in fast break points on the night

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The Last Word

“We dug ourselves a hole. We battled back in close and we had a couple plays and shots we didn’t make. They made some free throws and made some shots and plays down the stretch.” – Head Coach Billy Donovan

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