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Hawks improve but still drop 7th straight in 102-99 loss to Thunder

That was better, but not good enough.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

With Paul Millsap back in the new and (maybe?) improved starting lineup on Monday night, the Atlanta Hawks put forth a much better effort than the team has displayed in recent weeks. Still, it was not enough to stop a losing skid, as the Hawks dropped a seventh straight decision against the Oklahoma City Thunder by a final score of 102-99.

The first several minutes of basketball set the game back a few years, as neither team could convert despite quality offensive opportunities. Atlanta missed its first six shots but, on the bright side, the new starting lineup did wonders in holding OKC in check on the opposite end. For the most part, the Hawks controlled the pace in the first quarter, but the Thunder did string together six straight points to claim a 23-21 lead after 12 minutes.

From there, the second quarter was largely back and forth (11 lead changes in the first half) until OKC raced to a 9-0 run to take an eight-point lead. The Thunder led by as many as 10 points late in the half, but the Hawks awakened at that point, climbing back within a 55-54 margin at the break.

Though the Hawks committed an unsightly 12 turnovers in the first half, the team’s shooting rebounded from recent struggles, with 47 percent from the floor, 39 percent from three and 87 percent (13 of 15) from the free throw line. Kyle Korver’s first half off the bench resulted in 10 points on just five shot attempts, and Paul Millsap’s return netted 14 points before halftime in his own right.

The third quarter, however, did not go particularly well for the home team, and it was Russell Westbrook doing the damage for OKC. In fact, Westbrook outscored the entire Hawks team by a 16-15 margin during the 12-minute period, and an 11-2 run in the middle of the quarter swung the momentum. At the end of three, Oklahoma City held a 14-point lead that looked be potentially insurmountable, but Atlanta would not go quietly.

Kyle Korver drained his third three of the night to slash the lead to just five at 88-83 with 7:05 left and, shortly after, the Hawks climbed within a three-point deficit. That was as narrow as the margin would get, though, as the Russell Westbrook show continued.

OKC’s lead guard scored seven straight points, including a phenomenal 3-point play, to give the Thunder a 100-91 lead with 3:05 left, and while Atlanta would battle back from that point, it proved to be a comfortable enough margin for the visitors. The Hawks would have the final say, as a defensive stop provided one final possession with 9.6 seconds remaining and a three-point deficit. However, a broken play led to a 29-foot heave from Tim Hardaway Jr. at the buzzer, and the shot went begging.

Paul Millsap was the best player for the Hawks in his return, scoring 24 points (on 8 of 14 shooting) and stuffing the stat sheet while performing well defensively. In support, Dennis Schröder added 17 points, eight assists and six rebounds, while Kyle Korver contributed 15 points off the bench and Mike Muscala added 11 points on perfect shooting from the floor.

The Hawks will be in action on Wednesday against the Miami Heat home