Mike Budenholzer and the Atlanta Hawks elected to shake things up Monday night and while the result was another loss, a better effort at both ends of the floor at least gives them something to build on. The Hawks dropped their seventh straight game with a 102-99 loss to Russell Westbrook and the Thunder.
“There were some things that we did on both ends of the court that were better,” Budenholzer said after the game. “There was an opportunity for us to come do some work this morning, do some work tonight. We weren’t good enough. But if we continue to make progress in a lot of different areas, I think there are some positives to take, even though we didn’t get it done tonight.”
There is no such thing as moral victories in the NBA but Atlanta was coming off of a pair of non-competitive losses to Detroit and Toronto. The fact that they fought back in the fourth and had a chance at the end was encouraging. Unfortunately, Russell Westbrook was standing in their way Monday night.
Westbrook recorded his sixth straight triple-double with 32 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists while leading Oklahoma City to their sixth straight win. The Hawks through a number of looks at him defensively but weren’t able to slow him down.
“Trying to keep him out of the paint is something that’s important. But he’s including his teammates...so trying to limit not just him, but his teammates is important,” ” Budenholzer said when asked about defending Westbrook. He got hot for a little stretch and hit a couple of jumpers. When he does that and he’s getting to the rim and he’s including his teammates...that’s why he’s on a roll right now.”
Thabo Sefolosha replaced Kyle Korver in the Hawks’ starting lineup and spent much of the evening chasing Westbrook.
“It’s a challenge for everybody,” Sefolosha said about guarding Westbrook. “He can do so many different things. He plays at such a high energy level. You have to try to take his air space and contest his shot. He made a bunch tonight.”
Paul Millsap made his return to the lineup after missing a couple of games with a hip injury. The Hawks suddenly looked like the Hawks again with Millsap totaling at team-best 24 points, five rebounds and four assists. Atlanta shot 44 percent from the field and recorded 26 assists on 34 made baskets although they did turn the ball over 18 times.
“When we play Hawks basketball, it looks great,” Tim Hardaway Jr. said following the game. “Throughout the entire game, everybody was moving the ball. Everybody was getting involved. Everybody was trying to get stops, playing for one another out there on the court. We just happened to miss open shots, to miss some layups here and there. Some things didn’t go our way but we didn’t dwell on it. We kept playing and kept moving on.”
Hardaway, Korver and Mike Muscala accounted for 38 of Atlanta’s 46 bench points. Dennis Schröder finished with 17 points and eight assists. Kent Bazemore’s offensive struggles continued with an 0 for 7 showing. Dwight Howard was also ineffective finishing with six points, seven rebounds and four turnovers in just 19 minutes.
Atlanta is off on Tuesday and will return to the court Wednesday at home against the Miami Heat.