The Atlanta Hawks made their way to Oklahoma City on Friday night to do battle with the Thunder, with the home team having been surprisingly good this season. Before the game, Steven Adams was ruled out for OKC, which was some good news for the Hawks who have struggled all season long against good big men. In addition, Trae Young was upgraded to available early in the day, returning from a one-game absence with a thigh contusion.
Adams’ absence was not really a problem for OKC, though, with Bruno Fernando was struggling on defense against Nerlens Noel, and generally flailing overall. As a result, the rookie big man only saw seven minutes of action in the first half, scoring no points and grabbing just one rebound.
The Hawks turned to Alex Len, who did quite a good job of picking up the slack defensively. However, the big man that lifted Atlanta the most was John Collins. Collins piled up 17 points in the opening half while grabbing 3 rebounds in 14 minutes.
Neither team ever got on a run of any substance in the first quarter. The score was actually back and forth down to the end of the quarter when Chris Paul netted a buzzer-beating three pointer to break a tie at 30. That gave the Thunder a slight edge moving into the second quarter.
The Hawks faltered after the opening minutes of the second quarter as the Thunder stretched their lead out to as many as 11 points. Atlanta made a nice recovery though on the shoulders of Cam Reddish who has played some tremendous basketball (for a rookie) of late.
Reddish hit three big three-pointers in the second quarter and continued to play lights out defense in the half court setting. Reddish is struggling in the fast break though, as he is often caught jogging in transition. The rookie finished the first half with 13 points and five rebounds.
Trae Young had a strange first half as the Thunder really were visibly trying to play him high in the half court. This led to a lack of his usual pull-up shots and more passes to his rolling big men. Thus, at halftime Young found himself with a near double double as he amassed 11 points and 8 assists in 17 minutes.
The Hawks closed the gap to just four points, but OKC got their lead back to eight in the final two minutes to take a 66-58 lead into the break. Atlanta shot 49% from the floor in the opening half and 43% from beyond the arc. The Thunder shot 53% overall and 39% from deep.
Things would get more difficult after halftime for the Hawks as Len was ruled out for the remainder of the night coming out of the locker room with a right hip flexor strain.
Atlanta did come out of the break with some nice intensity though. The Hawks were able to whittle the deficit down to three as they scored the first five points of the second half. The score tightened down all the way to just one point at the 6:09 mark as OKC led 77-76.
Things quickly turned from there as Damian Jones was forced into action. Jones picked up two fouls in just six minutes and was pretty horrendous on defense as the Thunder built their lead to a game-high 14 points.
Overall the Thunder shot 65% from the floor in the third quarter and 7-of-9 from three to basically put the Hawks in their coffin. The final nails were still yet to come as the fourth quarter approached with OKC up 104-90.
From the start of the fourth quarter it was pretty apparent that the Hawks were doomed. Oklahoma City opened the period with a 10-4 spurt which got the lead up to 20 points and basically put a ribbon on things.
The Hawks did have a few bright spots in this game though. Trae Young finished his night with 26 points and 16 assists while John Collins added 28 points of his own. Reddish had a good night with 20 points and six boards and De’Andre Hunter made his way to double figures with 10 points in 31 minutes.
OKC had a really good game by spreading out their offense as seven players made it to double figures. That group was headlined by Danilo Gallinari who scored 25 points in 28 minutes. Chris Paul scored 18 points to go along with five assists and six boards. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander poured in 24 points and old friend Dennis Schroder had 21 points and eight assists.
The Hawks had several chances to take this one, but the loss of Alex Len really hampered their ability to compete as Fernando and Jones continue to struggle this season. Atlanta will be back in action on Sunday to face the Washington Wizards at State Farm Arena.