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Hawks shock Thunder behind best offensive showing of season

What a game, what a game.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks powered their way to victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night behind a season-best offensive showing, 142-126.

The Hawks had three players who scored 20 or more points, John Collins leading all of those with 26 points (making his first 11 shots, eventually going 12-for-14 from the field) while Trae Young and Alex Len both added 24 points and both had double-doubles, 11 assists for Young, 11 rebounds for Len.

For the Thunder, Russell Westbrook scored 31 points while Paul George added 24 points.

Rallying behind the best offensive showing of the season

As always, if you missed the game, check the recap because you need to see it to believe it...

Heading into this game, no one could’ve possibly expected the Hawks to hang 142 points on the team with the best defensive rating in the league in the form of the OKC Thunder.

The Hawks started this game well and kept up with the Thunder in the opening frame but it was in the second quarter where the offensive tone for this game was set for the Hawks as they hung 45 points in the second quarter to take an 11 point lead into the second half.

“We like that home court advantage,” said John Collins. “We came out tonight and hit them first. When we played those top two teams (Milwaukee and Toronto), they came out and hit us first. We knew if we wanted a chance to win the game, we had to come out and play with a lot of energy. We did that tonight.”

The scoring continued in the second half and despite a hiccup in the third quarter where the Thunder came back to lead heading into the fourth quarter, the Hawks responded in a big way with their second 45 point quarter of the game, the first time in franchise history (!!) that the Hawks have scored two 45 point quarters in a game.

Many offensive milestones/large numbers were set on the season in the wake of that performance — season-high 142 points, the best defense in the league gave up a season-worst 142, the Hawks shot 62% from the field (!!), hit 18 three-pointers and dished out 36 assists in what was, arguably, the Hawks’ best performance of the season.

Heck, it was so good that no one cares that the Thunder scored a remarkable 40 fast break points and shot 41 free throws compared to the Hawks’ 16 free throws.

Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce was happy with how his team started the game and loved the full effort from his side.

“I told our equipment guy, Zac (Walsh), that we have to play in those (throwback) uniforms for the rest of the month,” opened Pierce postgame. “I don’t know what got into our guys tonight. I thought the win at Philly was special. Just putting together 40-minute, complete game, (with) a lot guys stepping up and contributing.

“I thought tonight was even better. I thought right from the start our guys came out – we took a little bit of their punches, they were getting to the foul line in the first quarter and from there - we were great. We were great in the first quarter. I thought our defensive mentality … we were disciplined, we were locked in, and we executed offensively whatever we wanted. That was a complete effort. That was winning basketball. Our guys, I think we are 8-7 in the last 15 (games), and just a lot of confidence in the locker room. It’s just good to see.”

When the Thunder made their run in the third quarter (recovering from an double-digit point hole) and took a lead heading into the fourth — and you would’ve been forgiven for thinking the same way — everything pointed towards the Thunder closing this one out in the fourth but they struggled to score (scoring just nine points in the first six minutes of the final frame) and the Hawks ignited again — shooting 70% in the fourth quarter for their second 45 point quarter.

The team was visibly (and, obviously) hyped to get this win. The energy and mood were both at season-highs postgame it seemed — this was a big win against one of the better teams in the league.

And what made it more impressive was that the Hawks were shorthanded — no Kent Bazemore, no Jeremy Lin, no Dewayne Dedmon and Taurean Prince still on a minutes restriction (played 13 minutes of the 15 minutes Lloyd Pierce stated pre-game).

“I really like this win because we were really, really shorthanded,” said John Collins. “Everybody did a good job of stepping up and playing their role. It got us a win against a really good team tonight, so it shows us what sticking to coach’s plan and sticking to our roles as individuals can do for a team.”

While the rest of the league would’ve been shocked with this upset win, no one within the team is surprised about the result and how the Hawks have been playing of late.

“I’m not surprised, I mean, we played very well against them,” said rookie Trae Young. “Tonight, shots were just falling and when you see the ball go in like we did tonight, I think it just keeps rolling. They’re one of the top defensive teams in the league. Even with that being said, we shot pretty well tonight.”

“The past 10 games, we’ve been playing like this,” said DeAndre’ Bembry postgame. “You always win some and lose some, but we’ve been gelling recently. It shows. A lot of us played pretty good tonight. Kevin (Huerter) started it off for us. John Collins and Trae had good games. We’ve just been playing well together recently.”

So, the big question How did the Hawks hang 142 on the league’s best defense?

We can start with three-point shooting — hitting 18 three-pointers definitely helps (that’s the most the Thunder have given up in a game this season)

Kevin Huerter hit five three-pointers — four of them coming in the first half — including this one in the corner, hitting Patrick Patterson with a few jabs before rising and hitting the contested three:

When you look at the shot plot of the Hawks’ made threes, the majority of them came from the left-side of the court, which was interesting if nothing else.

But the biggest reason the Hawks hung 142 on the league’s best defensive rating is that were just able to score at the rim at will, scoring 29 field goals at the rim and shooting over 82% on those attempts at the rim:

It was a dunk/lob party at times, with the likes of Omari Spellman, Alex Len but mostly John Collins having an absolute field day at the rim.

Let’s look at what John Collins was able to do, since he was the one that gave the Thunder, arguably, the largest amount of trouble.

Collins scored 26 points on the night — all of his shots and makes coming in the paint/at the rim:

The Thunder had no answer for Collins in the pick-and-roll. Whether he slipped the screen or set it and rolled, the Thunder couldn’t slow him down. If Steven Adams was involved in the pick-and-roll, he was preoccupied with the ball-handler, which left Collins free to roll and his teammates did the rest.

Here, Collins initially has the possession of the ball, hands off to Huerter, sets the screen which puts enough separation between Huerter and Paul George, Adams has to cut off Huerter and Huerter lobs it up top for Collins at the rim:

Later in the second quarter — with Adams guarding Len and Jerami Grant guarding Collins — Collins slips this pick-and-roll with Jaylen Adams, who lifts it over the top and Collins finishes with aplomb as Adams can’t/doesn’t react in time to what’s happening:

Again, high pick-and-roll from the Hawks, Bembry draws Adams off of the screen from Collins and Adams can’t match/contend with Collins’ speed heading down the lane and no other Thunder player rotates onto him, leading to an easy finish off the Bembry lob:

And if Steven Adams isn’t guarding Collins, the Hawks are happy to let him go to work on just about everyone else.

On this play, the help does come for Collins at the rim but his size and strength allow him to finish at the rim regardless:

This was the case in the pick-and-roll and on the block:

The Thunder obviously switch a lot on defense but it’s a lot to ask Terrence Ferguson to try and guard John Collins...

“Just knowing the scouting report,” said Collins when asked how the Hawks were able to do damage in the paint. “Coaches told us to keep our hands ready and the guards to look for the ball. They switch a lot so we know there’s going to be an emphasis on trying to get the ball down-low and capitalize on those easy switches and, really, playing to our strength in the pick-and-roll. I think we did both tonight.”

A monster performance in the paint from not only Collins but the Hawks — 68 points in the paint and when you’re hitting shots at such a high efficiency like the Hawks did and you’re hitting 18 three-pointers...that’s hard to stop.

Postgame, Pierce elaborated on what allowed the Hawks to score at will at the rim.

“We understood what they do defensively,” said Pierce on what allowed the Hawks to score easy buckets at the rim. “One through four they switch and we know we can throw the ball high and over the top. With Adams specifically, he likes to get up the floor and attack the basketball. The switches are there. Turning the corner against him, Trae was able to get by Adams and we had drop-offs to Alex and Omari and John.

“I thought our guys did good job from the game-plan standpoint of understanding how they play pick-and-rolls and (us) attacking downhill. We were finding our bigs — Omari had a couple of dunks, John had 12-for-14 and Alex had a bunch of plays at the rim and that was just them taking advantage of what they were doing defensively.”

Money quote from Pierce right there (and a money question from Peachtree Hoops’ Brad Rowland to instigate it).

While Pierce (who often talks about his side getting ‘downhill’) was happy that his side enjoyed so many shots at the rim, Thunder head coach Billy Donovan was left to rue his side allowing the Hawks to do so, also bemoaning a lack of help in the lane in the second quarter (one of the Hawks’ 45 point quarters).

“We let the ball get downhill a little bit too long, kind of held our coverage there,” said Donovan. “Then that big was caught in no-mans land and we got hurt back over the top. I thought in that third quarter we did a good job of generating some turnovers and some steals. I didn’t think we loaded up and helped enough inside the lane in that second quarter, in particular, where they went on that run. We needed to do a better job in some of their action. In the third, we adjusted pretty well on that.”

Pierce referenced Alex Len as part of that group that helped put pressure on the Thunder’s defense and this is a good spot to talk about Len...

While he wasn’t as destructive of a force as Collins was in this game, he still scored 24 points (tying a season-high) and, as Pierce eluded to, caused all sorts of problems in the pick-and-roll.

Here, Adams attacks Young in an attempt to trap/cut off coming out of the pick-and-roll, Len darts inside, Young finds him and Adams can’t react in time to stop the basket:

That’s a very nice pass from Young and good execution of the game-plan as we now know (Pierce eluding to the fact Adams like to attack the basketball defensively).

A key moment/stretch in this game that probably won’t be talked about but, I think, held high significance was in the third quarter, Len picks up his 4th foul with 8:35 remaining in the third quarter. The Hawks elected to leave Len in the game and he could’ve easily risked a fifth foul on this play shortly after picking up his fourth foul:

I thought Len should’ve been called for a reach-in foul here and if he had, that would’ve been Len’s fifth personal foul and the Hawks would’ve had to have subbed him out for a long stretch. Given how important Len was in this game (he already had 14 points by the time he picked up that fourth personal), with Dedmon out and Pierce not using Omari Spellman a ton in this one (playing just 21 minutes overall), if Len had picked up his fifth it may have been a game-changer for the Hawks in this game, especially given the run the Thunder ended up having with Len in the lineup — they could’ve easily enjoyed a much larger lead heading into the fourth had Len had to sub out and Spellman back in.

Alas, that wasn’t the case and Len managed to avoid picking up his fifth foul.

Trae Young also enjoyed a great game and hurt the Thunder both inside and outside.

Young hit four three-pointers in this game, including this deep, 30-footer on Dennis Schröder:

Coming off of a John Collins screen, Young is able to get around Adams and lay his shot up off of glass and into the net for the score:

But, again, the Hawks were left to marvel at Young’s passing abilities — 11 assists in this one as he carved the Thunder up at times.

We’ve actually looked at bunch of Young assists already (a lot of them towards Collins) but here’s a few more...

Here, Young finds Spellman this time on the lob, drawing the defense and lifting it over the defense (which, as Pierce talked about, was part of the game-plan):

And, lastly, how about this play from Young — the vision and then the behind the back-the-back pass to Huerter, who hits the three:

A tad behind Huerter but he gathered it and it’s an assist for Young — not too many players can make that kind of play. Was kind of LeBron-like in some ways...

The Hawks were buzzing after this win and many players enjoyed great performances.

We didn’t even talk about the likes of DeAndre’ Bembry, who scored 16 points (and had some great steals near the end of the game) including this beautiful reverse dunk to put the exclamation point on the W:

“My teammates always complain to me about not showing my bounce or bunnies,” said Bembry of the play. “I was happy I could show you guys I have a little bit of bunnies.”

Bembry has enjoyed success in that starting lineup (for the most part) and Pierce was full of praise for ‘The Drip Gawd’.

“He had a tough challenge. He had to guard Russ (Russell Westbrook),” said Pierce of Bembry. “I don’t know what show he went on last night (The Starters on NBA TV), he called himself or they called him, ‘The Drip Gawd’. If you know DeAndre’, you know that he plays with a lot of swagger. I think that’s important. I think it’s important to play with confidence, to play with swag, and to take a challenge like a guy like Russell Westbrook, and to step up to compete and be able to perform on the offensive end as well. That’s who ‘Dre is, and that’s what he’s done. I’ll say it again. I’m excited and happy for him.”

As for the Thunder, well, they weren’t the first team to underestimate a Hawks side that’s now 8-7 in their last 15 games and they certainly won’t be the last (at least, won’t be the last to talk about it postgame).

“These are the games that we have to be ready for, one of those games that we were supposed to roll and that didn’t happen tonight,” said Paul George. “When you play a team like the Hawks, you have to match their energy and we didn’t do that tonight.”

Bench boost

We’ll try tackle these last few pointers briefly...

Despite the absence of Jeremy Lin and Dewayne Dedmon, the Hawks still received a great boost from their bench, who scored 49 points to the Thunder’s 30 bench points.

We’ve talked about Alex Len already (who had 24 points and 11 rebounds) but a player who deserve a great shout is Daniel Hamilton.

While Hamilton only had five points, he was active — particularly in the first half, coming up with a couple of nice plays, including this block on Russell Westbrook:

And this steal after Prince had just made a basket, eventually leading to a Len follow-up dunk after the three-point miss from Hamilton:

Hamilton was a little quieter in the second half but played a nice role in the Hawks’ first half blitz.

Vince Carter added three threes off of the bench and Taurean Prince in limited time also performed well — seven points for Prince in 13 minutes.

A nice lift for the Hawks on a night where they are still shorthanded and the flu running through the team.

OKC unable to take advantage of steals/turnovers

One of the aspects of this game that got lost amidst the Hawks’ offensive explosion was that the Thunder put together one of the best nights in the entire league this season when it came to steals — 16 steals on the night the Thunder came up with as the Hawks turned it over 19 times.

But the Thunder were unable to capitalize on that performance, scoring just 18 points off of those turnovers/steals.

Had they taken advantage of the Hawks’ turnovers as, say, the Bucks did on Sunday afternoon, the complexion of this game may have been different.


Dennis Schröder’s return to Atlanta

After spending his first five years with the Atlanta Hawks organization, point guard Dennis Schröder made his first return to State Farm Arena following his summer trade to the Thunder.

Schröder received a decent reception following a video tribute that the Hawks showed during the first timeout:

“I’ve been here five years, you know? Been special,” said Schröder postgame. “Now, I’m in a new organization. But tonight was fun. They did a video for me. I appreciated it a lot.”

Schröder scored 21 points on the night, including the last 11 for his side to end the third quarter but it wasn’t enough to give them the victory.

Speaking of videos, the Hawks also ran a tribute video for the 2014-15 Hawks side — featuring the likes of former Hawks Al Horford and DeMarre Carroll — which holds a lot of significance for the fans and people who covered the team in that time, especially in the month of January when the Hawks went unbeaten in that calendar month.

Sadly, it wasn’t posted online to share but it was a really nice moment and a great video.

Baby Blue, baby

The Hawks debuted their baby blue throwback jerseys (throwing it way back to 1968) and ran their alternate court to go along with those jerseys.

Here’s a look at them a little closer up...

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

I have to say, these looked fantastic and if you say otherwise,’re just wrong.

The one thing I would say is I’d like to see them with the Hawks’ regular court — not sure the black and gold court really helps bring the best out of them.

This isn’t the last time the Hawks will don these baby blue beauts, so hopefully we can see them with the regular court layout.

The Hawks (14-30) will get a chance to rest/get over the flu somewhat before their gruelling seven-game road trip but before that trip comes a tilt against the Boston Celtics on Saturday at State Farm Arena.

Should be fun.

Until next time...