The Atlanta Hawks’ four game winning streak came to an end in Oklahoma City at the hands of the Thunder on Monday night at Paycom Center, 126-117.
Dejounte Murray led the Hawks with 29 points, Trae Young added 22 points and 11 assists. For the Thunder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored a game-high 30 points with Jalen Williams adding 21 points.
Coming into the game, Gilgeous-Alexander was previously ruled out of the game before being upgraded to questionable Monday afternoon — eventually starting and playing 37 minutes. After he scored 30 points on 11-of-17 shooting to go with eight rebounds and six assists, the Hawks will be left to wonder about what their prospects might have been had he remained out.
Similarly, the Hawks could ask similar questions about several other aspects of the game.
The first half was a half where the Hawks shot a poor 29% from the field, missing in some cases some very makable shots — De’Andre Hunter (2-of-10) and Jalen Johnson (2-of-9) in particular couldn’t get anything to fall both beyond the arc and near the rim. In fact, the only two Hawks to shoot over 40% from the field in the first half were Saddiq Bey (2-of-5) and Bogdan Bogdanovic (4-of-8), and it was these two that gave the Hawks a much-needed lift when they entered the game in the first half.
Matters got somewhat out of hand in the third quarter as the Thunder outscored the Hawks 38-27 to carry their lead to 19 points. In particular, a flurry from Isaiah Joe (three threes in just under a minute) opened this one further than one would be comfortable. From here, the Hawks very much played catch up, and, to their credit, they did, cutting the lead to as few as five points in the fourth.
A couple of decisive plays that ended up going against the Hawks, this first one a block from Lu Dort on a Young three-point attempt which ends up in a transition basket where Gilgeous-Alexander throws a lob for Jalen Williams to put the Thunder up by nine points with just under a minute and a half to go:
After Johnson split a pair of free throws to bring the lead down to six points with a minute to go, the Thunder find themselves in a late-clock situation and Johnson contests Gilgeous-Alexander’s shot, but the rebound is won by Chet Holmgren, who finishes at the rim and draws the foul from Onyeka Okongwu to put the Thunder by nine points once the three-point play is completed and the game was effectively over at that point.
Post game, Hawks head coach Quin Snyder referenced the Holmgren rebound as a key play as well as referencing the Hawks’ shooting in the first half where decent shots didn’t fall.
“I thought the first half we really didn’t see the ball go in the basket,” opened Snyder. “Down 19, to come back and cut it to six with a stop, I thought Holmgren’s offensive rebound, that possession was a big play. It’s not trying to focus on the positive — I guess it is to a degree — the fact that we continued to take our shots, we continued to offensive rebound and we were down 19 and scratched and clawed made it a game late.”
For the game, the Hawks shot 37% from the field and 14-of-42 from three (33%) and it became evident as the game progressed that the likes of Hunter and Young (5-of-18) were unlikely to be able find fortune shooting the ball, but the Hawks continued to shoot: exactly what Snyder wanted them to do.
“You acknowledge it and keep shooting,” said Snyder of the shooting struggles. “I would have liked, frankly, for us to take 10 more. The way this team defends, when you don’t take your shot and you drive the ball the whole paint just collapses. It becomes really hard to score in the paint, there’s just bodies in there. If that’s what they’re giving you... I thought they cooled down a little in the second. We did keep shooting, I don’t think there’s any magic to that, I really don’t. You hear that a lot, ‘They should do this, or do that.’ If you’re open from three that’s a really good shot. No one ever says don’t take a layup. That shot, if it’s clean and open against these guys it’s probably the best shot you’re going to get in a possession.”
The Thunder, to their credit, did make life difficult for the Hawks at times. They were able to swarm the ball-handler at times and their pressure/help got the Hawks stuck in traffic or helped create turnovers.
Rookie Cason Wallace (who I thought was really impressive overall) does well to stay in range to pick off an attempted pass back to Young and Wallace finishes with the dunk:
Here’s a better example perhaps, as Young is near the wing and the Thunder are there ready to help, rotate, and swarm, forcing Young to pass out to Johnson who misses an open shot:
Heading up the court, Murray is pressured all the way and when he gets inside the paint the trap is sprung from behind him and there’s a scramble for the ball:
Coming off the Okongwu screen, Young gets into the paint but is met with a host of orange bodies and has to make a decision. In the end, the attempted pass ends in a turnover:
“I thought there were a couple of plays where the decisions were difficult for him which is, I think, something that you have to do is keep him on his toes,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “Don’t give him the same dose of the same defense over and over again, because obviously he’s a savvy player.”
The Thunder’s length at times made things difficult. Holmgren in particular was active defensively, producing three blocks. When asked about the Thunder’s length, Young acknowledged it was a factor and credited OKC’s defense but also reaffirmed Snyder’s point on offensive looks.
“They’re a long team,” said Young on if the Thunder’s length affected shots. “To be honest with you, Garrison had two wide open threes, Dre had some good looks, I had a couple of good looks that didn’t go down, floaters. They definitely did a good job on defense, you can’t say they didn’t because we didn’t shoot good. But at the same time we had some good shots and good looks that didn’t go down the first half that were the reason we came back from 19 late in the game in the second half.”
The Hawks went on a couple of droughts in this game where scoring came with difficulty, and in these stretches, according to Young, the defense has to be ramped up to get you through those stretches.
“You always got to try to step your defense up and hope your defense can carry you throughout time you’re not shooting good,” said Young of the shooting struggles. “We ended up picking up the shooting later in the game but early in the game it wasn’t falling. I can’t even say we’re not making shots until I start making shots. I wasn’t making shots and we were getting some good looks and they weren’t going down. They’re going to fall, we’re getting great looks. I don’t think we’ve put together a full game yet of what we can do yet offensively and defensively. That’s the bright spot.”
Another bright spot for the Hawks that helped them last night was their offensive rebounding...but this, arguably, they didn’t take advantage of this aspect.
With Clint Capela, Johnson and Okongwu all grabbing six offensive rebounds apiece, the Hawks helped themselves to an astonishing 25 offensive rebounds (the most they’ve grabbed in a game since March 26th 2017 where they secured 26 offensive rebounds in a loss against the Brooklyn Nets) but only scored 19 second chance points. For 25 offensive rebounds, that isn’t enough. It was a crushing advantage that wasn’t enjoyed in the way it should have been, an acknowledgement Quin Snyder also made.
“...The other thing was we were on the rim. Not saying we have to shoot a three every time but if they’re closing out, we got to the rim, we didn’t shoot a great percentage at the rim. Our second chance points for 24 (offensive) rebounds weren’t what they’ve been to and that’s kind of the same thing — we just didn’t see the ball going in the basket. We kept competing despite that.”
An underrated aspect of last night’s game that really hurt the Hawks was a combination of the Thunder making end of clock shots and the Hawks fouling the Thunder near the end of the clock.
OKC made some prayers, so in this regard the Hawks were unlucky, such as this three from Gilgeous-Alexander with Hunter draped on him:
With Bey this time doing an excellent job defensively, Aaron Wiggins hits this end of clock three despite the contest:
With Johnson sufficiently covering the passing lane after the OKC drive and pass to Jaylin Williams, Williams has no choice but to hoist a shot at the end of the clock, and the fall-away shot jumper with Okongwu in his space drops:
To end the third quarter, the Hawks do a poor job allowing Jalen Williams to get between two defenders, and his runner drops as the third quarter buzzer sounds:
It wasn’t the only poor way to end a quarter with Young committing a shooting foul on Dort to end the second quarter, giving Dort three free throws:
Again, the Thunder made some very difficult shots in these end of clock scenarios but the Hawks didn’t help themselves either. Add another foul by Okongwu on Holmgren near the end of the clock with 29 seconds left in the first that sent the rookie to the line (he dispatched both) and I counted at least 15 points in total the Thunder — one way or another — salvaged from end of clock scenarios. It’s a big swing that arguably wasn’t highlighted enough.
The main takeaway has been the continued poor shooting of Young, who is averaging 21.7 points per game on 33% shooting from the field and 27% from three on 6.3 attempts to go with 4.3 turnovers per game after the seven he committed last night. Young has had slow starts in the past and got going in a hurry at times, and the Hawks will hope he does so again soon.
Elsewhere, Murray enjoyed another good night scoring the ball: 29 points on 7-of-16 shooting from the field and a whopping 6-of-9 from three, while Bogdan Bogdanovic made a good contribution off the bench with efficient 17 points.
In a rotation tidbit, Garrison Mathews played four minutes to begin the second quarter and it was interesting he was preferred to A.J. Griffin in this instance. I personally don’t think it means there’s something in offing (as others on X suggested), but certainly an interesting development that Snyder’s shortly deployed ninth rotation member was Mathews.
Obviously it was a tough game for De’Andre Hunter, who scored eight points on 2-of-13 shooting and 1-of-7 from three. Games like this are prone to happen with Hunter. I’ve often alluded that he can those nights where he shoots something in the 4-of-14 from the field kind of range, and this was the first one of the season — just one of those inefficient nights from Hunter shooting the ball. His defense on Gilgeous-Alexander was very good in parts, it’s a very difficult matchup with his size and his ability to slash.
Outside of that, a difficult one for the Hawks to swallow I think. Had things fallen differently at the rim, at the end of the clock, had the Hawks done a little more with their many second chance points and I think this could have been very different — and that’s before the individual shooting struggles.
The Thunder were fun to watch in action. Defensively they were active, shifty. Holmgren may have shot 4-of-14 but his future will be fun to watch. It was one of those games where it didn’t feel like he shot 4-of-14 because of his activity elsewhere. Oh, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is really good. Always worth a mention. They’re an exciting young team, I look forward from a neutral perspective to see what they can do this season. They return to Atlanta on January 3rd for the Hawks’ first game of 2024.
For the Hawks, it’s a temporary setback to what’s been a strong start to the season. There’s a strong case to be made that they should be 5-2. Their response in their next outing will be important, especially against an opponent where victory would be expected.
On that note, the Hawks (4-3) now jet off to Mexico City where they will square off against the Orlando Magic (4-3).
Should be an interesting contest, as the matchup with Paolo Banchero will be of intrigue.
Until next time...