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Defense sinks Hawks in 119-107 loss to Thunder

Things were positive for the first half.

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

With a lengthy injury report as the backdrop, not much was expected of the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The team battled throughout the evening but, after 48 minutes of competitive basketball, Russell Westbrook and company emerged with a 119-107 decision to send Atlanta to another defeat.

The opening moments did not go perfectly for the Hawks, as the Thunder began the evening by converting four of their first five shots, including a trio of three-pointers. However, John Collins was tremendous in the first quarter, including a number of highlight dunks.

In fact, Atlanta’s offense was strong throughout the first half and, despite the fact that the team’s defense faltered (to the tune of a 127 defensive rating) in the first 12 minutes, scoring was not an issue. Collins made his first five shots, Taurean Prince and Dennis Schroder scored 14 points each and, in a bit of a stunning turn, the Hawks took a 12-point lead (not a misprint) into the halftime break.

Offensively, the team made 49 percent of its shots and posted a clip of 136.1 points per 100 possessions. That is, of course, tremendous and, while the defense wasn’t exactly dominant, Atlanta’s cushion as the third quarter opened was present.

Seemingly on cue, though, the Thunder raced to a 30-8 run at the outset of the third quarter and Carmelo Anthony, who had struggled mightily before halftime, exploded for 12 points in the first five minutes. The Hawks did not roll over, responding with a 10-2 run to close within two but, in short, that 22-point blitz flipped the momentum and the advantage in favor of the visitors.

In the fourth quarter, the Hawks did tie the game, using eight straight points to knot the festivities at 103-103 with 5:15 remaining. From there, Oklahoma City rattled off 16 straight points to take complete control and the Hawks could not mount the comeback needed to make things close.

Taurean Prince, fresh off a career-best 38 points on Sunday, led the way with 25 points and eight rebounds for the Hawks and he was flanked by Dennis Schroder (18 points, eight assists) and John Collins (10 points, nine rebounds). Damion Lee, making his NBA debut, contributed 13 points in reserve duty and, in general, Atlanta’s offense was strong throughout. In the end, though, stops did not arrive with enough frequency and that proved to be the difference.

The Hawks will return to the floor on Thursday evening against Dwight Howard, Kemba Walker and the Charlotte Hornets. Stay tuned.