It was the end of the west coast road trip. The Hawks were down three key rotation players with the absences of Mike Scott, Kyle Korver, and Thabo Sefolosha. And most importantly, individual regular season games are not that vital when you have clinched the division and are likely to take the number one seed in the Eastern Conference.
But boy was this game a stinker.
Russell Westbrook and Anthony Morrow ran wild on the Hawks in the fourth quarter, scoring 27 of Oklahoma City’s 33 fourth quarter points on their way to completing a comeback over Atlanta to win 123-115. Westbrook coordinated a 23-6 run in the quarter that was a result of great execution by Oklahoma City and non-existent execution by the Hawks.
The first half started off extremely hot, as both teams were shooting a high percentage from the field. Even Pero Antic woke up from his shooting slump, tying a career-high 18 points before the half had even ended. Antic finished the game with 22 points, and overall, the Hawks shot 58% in the half and maintained a 68-61 lead into the intermission.
The Hawks started to show some cracks in the third quarter, but were able to keep their lead thanks to some great play from Paul Millsap. Millsap was 4-for-5 from the field in the quarter with nine points, which were enough to keep the Hawks afloat. Millsap finished the game with a line of 19 points, three rebounds, three assists, four steals, and two blocks.
However, the Hawks finally fell in the fourth when they simply could not keep up with Oklahoma City. The Thunder decided to go small by essentially playing four guards and the Atlanta bench had no idea how to counteract it. Oklahoma City also made the decision to start switching on defense in the fourth quarter and with no Kyle Korver or Mike Scott to help fill the perimeter, the Hawks crumbled. Instead of trying to take advantage of mismatches and play “Hawks basketball”, the Hawks played into their competition’s hands and let the Thunder control the game.
Among the positives, Dennis Schröder had a good game with 21 points and four assists. Schröder knocked down three 3s in this game and is shooting 42% from 3 since the All Star break. If he can actually develop a consistent jumper like he has started to show, Schröder’s game could take off in a hurry.
I usually try not to turn single games into a referendum on the Hawks’ play, but the past two have been clear indicators that the Hawks sorely miss Korver, Sefolosha, and to a lesser extent, Scott. Korver and Scott go a bit in tandem, as the Hawks’ offense is so reliant on space, which is usually provided by Korver. However, even with Korver out, Scott could be making up for it with his 40% shooting from deep and willingness to shoot the rock. With the two out, the problem just becomes exacerbated.
Sefolosha is missed for his defense, where he was absolutely destroying opponents this season. He may have been playing less than 20 minutes per game, but in that time, Sefolosha was giving it his all on defense and the results showed in the Hawks undefeated month of January where Thabo was plus-19.4 per 100 possessions per Basketball-Reference. While Sefolosha’s injury has given some time for Kent Bazemore to shine, Bazemore simply has not had the same impact that Sefolosha was having.
Luckily for the Hawks, Korver and Sefolosha are expected back potentially as early as Sunday and Mike Scott was upgraded with his foot injury from 4-6 weeks to just 2-4 weeks. As we have seen, the Hawks are a juggernaut when at full strength. Let’s see if injury luck will allow them to get back to that point.