Facing the uber-athletic Oklahoma City Thunder on the second game of a road back-to-back is a tough spot for any NBA team, and it is undoubtedly a challenge for the Atlanta Hawks. Mike Budenholzer's team stepped up to that challenge for much of the night on Thursday, but in the end, the Thunder were too much in holding off Atlanta by a final score of 107-94.
Both teams came out of the gate flying on this night, but it was the Thunder that took control early and never really relinquished that stranglehold. Oklahoma City raced to a 13-0 run to take a 17-8 lead, and the Thunder scored a blazing 35 points in the opening quarter while shooting 67% from the field and from behind the three-point line. While Atlanta managed to shoot 69% (!) in their own right, the Thunder were getting second-chance opportunities, and that continued into the second quarter.
Kent Bazemore did his best work in order to keep the Hawks engaged, but the defense was enough of a problem where Atlanta could not fully gain traction. Bazemore scored eight points in a row to keep his team afloat late in the half, and the swingman finished with 18 points (on 6 for 6 shooting) in the first half. Still, the Thunder took a lead into the break after scoring 60 points on 55% shooting, and a 17-point half from Serge Ibaka certainly contributed to that.
Coming out of halftime, it would have been easy for Atlanta to fold up the tent, but they were not willing to do so. The Hawks put together an 18-4 run to cut the lead to one at 70-69, and that spurt included back-to-back threes from Kyle Korver and a closing triple from Al Horford to punctuate the surge. Later in the quarter, the Hawks were able to slash the advantage back to one at 76-75, but the Thunder closed the period with seven straight points and an 83-75 lead was their prize.
The Hawks would, on cue, make a few pushes to keep things close in the final period, even climbing within just seven points in the final three minutes. In fact, Atlanta had a shot in the air, off the hand of Kent Bazemore, that would have cut the lead to four, but the ball clanged off the rim, and Oklahoma City took advantage with a sequence of a Serge Ibaka jumper and a dunk from Kevin Durant that followed in short order. The Hawks never led in the second half, and the Thunder simply held on for what became a 13-point win.
On the whole, this was a respectable effort from Atlanta, but there were a few areas of concern. The Thunder out-rebounded the Hawks by a decisive 52-34 margin on the night, and while their shooting cooled, OKC still knocked down nearly 49% of their field goal attempts including better than 50% from beyond the arc. In addition, Kevin Durant finished with a triple-double (25 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists), and only Jeff Teague (18 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) could claim a "good" game out of Atlanta's starting five.
Budenholzer and his team will return to Atlanta with the day off on Friday, but the task on Saturday is a big one, as the San Antonio Spurs come calling for their annual visit to Philips Arena. Stay tuned.