The shorthanded Atlanta Hawks — playing without point guard and leading scorer Dennis Schröder, who sat out with an ankle injury — battled hard in OKC only to come up short at the very end, with reigning MVP Russell Westbrook draining a three-pointer with 1.7 seconds remaining to settle the score 120-117 in the Thunder’s favor.
Marco Belinelli — who stepped into the starting lineup at shooting guard after the Hawks decided to deploy Bazemore at the point guard position — led the Hawks with 27 points while Ersan Ilyasova added 22 points. John Collins also had a strong game with 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting and nine rebounds.
For the Thunder, Russell Westbrook scored 30 points (including the game-winner), dished out 15 assists and grabbed seven rebounds while Carmelo Anthony added 24 points.
A fight to the end
On a night where the Hawks were without Dennis Schröder, and on the road in a tough environment against a good team, they performed well above anyones expectations for them.
On numerous occasions — particularly in the second quarter and beginning of the third quarter — this game threatened to get out of hand, the Thunder led by as many as 16 points.
But the Hawks kept at it, kept chipping away and Atlanta — with some additional help from the Thunder’s turnovers — came right the way back, the deficit reduced to a single point heading into the fourth quarter.
The Hawks initially blew numerous opportunities to take the lead in the fourth but eventually got there, and put the Thunder on the back-foot by taking a 92-88 lead, forcing the Thunder into a timeout.
Russell Westbrook — who had been on the bench as the Hawks took their lead — returned to the court and made his presence instantly be felt by scoring himself, assisting others and getting himself/setting up teammates to get to the free throw line. This put the Thunder back in control (and a turning point in this game).
Two big three-pointers back-to-back by Malcolm Delaney and Marco Belinelli brought the Hawks within touching distance again and both teams traded punches for the last four minutes — both unable to come up with defensive stops.
After a bonkers three from Ersan Ilyasova — followed by a missed free throw by Paul George and two more Ilyasova free throws — the Thunder have the opportunity to take the last shot. They drain the clock with Westbrook and then...
No play to breakdown, no screens... Just a pull-up, contested three-pointer by Westbrook with 1.7 left on the clock.
The only thing you could say is that Westbrook had a bit too much space to step into that three after Bazemore switched onto Paul George and Prince onto Westbrook, but the shot itself was still contested and a few feet behind the three-point line...
Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer talked about the dilemma that Russell Westbrook presents to you as an opponent.
“With his speed and explosion, it’s tough to get into him that far away from the basket,” said Bud when asked about the final possession. “When he’s attacking and getting downhill, it’s not easy. So when he pulls up from three or four feet from behind the three-point line... No doubt he’s capable of doing it and he’s done it a lot of times and he did it tonight. You tip your cap to him and you just got to take it.”
The Hawks, with no timeouts, get a shot off but not a quality one and that was the game — a cruel ending to a game they had every right to win at the end.
Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer couldn’t have asked much more of his team.
“To compete and play the way we did in, really, both halves but particularly the second half... The way they guard... They execute, they make you cut hard, play with each other, share the ball, move without it,” said Bud. “...Very, very pleased with a lot of things tonight, a lot individual, a lot collectively.”
This is a tough loss to take if you’re the Hawks. However you feel about rebuilding/tanking...this team is competitive, they play hard and that’s all you can ask for.
Offensive rebounds/second chance scoring
A very key aspect of this game, and it went in the Thunder’s way. The Thunder grabbed 15 offensive rebounds and converted them into 23 second chance points — 14 of them coming in the final period.
Steven Adams played a huge role in this, grabbing seven offensive rebounds, but it was in that fourth quarter where the Hawks couldn’t secure the defensive rebounds, leading, to second chance opportunities like this, that really cost the dear:
Thunder fighting off Hawks. Melo fires off his 6th three. OKC leads by 5 with 5 mins left. pic.twitter.com/Jla9XyQJiU— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) December 23, 2017
These were huge for the Thunder and they don’t win this game without them.
The second chance points were something that stood out to Bud postgame.
“...I think our team can take tonight how we played in the second half,” said Bud. “Try get better defensively, limit them to a couple less second chance points, a couple less threes...”
But you have to give the Thunder credit: they worked hard for those opportunities and the Hawks didn’t do a good enough job putting bodies on the Thunder to limit these offensive rebounds (John Collins in particular struggled at times against Steven Adams).
Turnovers played a big role in this game for both teams — the Hawks in the first half, the Thunder in the second half.
In the first half, the Hawks committed 12 first half turnovers leading to 17 Thunder points (and some of these were not good).
In the second half, the Thunder committed 10 turnovers leading to 18 Atlanta points.
In total, the Hawks scored 33 points off of 19 OKC turnovers while the Thunder scored 23 points off of 17 Atlanta turnovers.
These turnovers — for both respective teams in both halves — helped the Thunder pull away in the second quarter and also brought the Hawks back into the game when the Thunder began coughing the ball up.
The Hawks ultimately fared better in this department in the end, but you can’t help but wonder how different this game might have been if they had taken better care of the ball in the first half.
Malcolm Delaney’s career-night
It’s been an up and down season for Malcolm Delaney.
Sometimes he has played and a lot of the time he hasn’t. When he has gotten those minutes, his form has been up and down, and following the loss against the Pacers on Wednesday — a game where Delaney was called into action in the second half having not featured in the first half — his comments seemed to tell the tale of a man who was just struggling with his current situation.
Asked Malcolm Delaney how hard it is to come in cold in the 2nd half after not playing in the 1st— Brad Rowland (@BTRowland) December 21, 2017
"It's tough, man. Never did it in my life. All this stuff is new to me and I try my hardest just to do what I can to help the team win... toughest thing I've ever done in my career"
Delaney bounced back in the best possible way, scoring an NBA career-high 20 points (while also dishing out six assists) on 7-of-10 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 from behind the arc.
His efforts — both offensively and defensively — did not go unnoticed by coach Bud.
“Malcolm . . . had a great game on both sides of the floor,” said Bud.
Delaney said postgame he has spent a lot more time in the gym lately and is just staying ready.
“Since I haven’t been playing I’ve been in the gym a lot more,” said Delaney. “Just trying to stay ready and just wait for my opportunity and when I get in, just try to be more aggressive. It’s probably the only way to keep me on the floor or when I do get the chance I got to show what I can do. So just treat every game like auditions for coaches so I can get coach’s respect. I think he already trusts me to a certain extent but think the better I play the more he’ll trust in my game.”
The “auditions” line is an interesting one...Delaney seems to know what’s on the line if he doesn’t play well (Delaney is a restricted free agent at the end of this season)...
On a night when the Hawks needed production from other places, they got it in the form of Delaney. It’s just unfortunate for him that it didn’t translate into a win.
DeAndre’ Bembry’s tough night
It wasn’t the best night for DeAndre’ Bembry, he was scoreless on 0-of-3 shooting and played just seven minutes, all coming in the first half.
It was one of those nights where everything Bembry tried to do went wrong.
From layups (yes, multiple) at the rim:
To lob passes gone very wrong:
Whatever he did on offense, it just didn’t work last night for Bembry. Defensively, he did some good things but it’s no surprise that Bembry played as little as he did in this game — he was just that bad offensively.
Bembry’s form of late has been concerning. In his last five games, Bembry is averaging 2.4 points per game on 28.6% shooting from the field and one assist in just 15 minutes a game. His defense has been pretty good (great at times) but offensively it’s not going as well as some might have hoped. I’m personally high on Bembry, so I’m not too worried long-term but it’s definitely understandable why some might be.
The Hawks (7-25) are back in action tonight at Philips Arena where they take on the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs were the Hawks’ first game of the season, a game the Hawks won.
Should be fun. Stay tuned.