Heading into Tuesday’s night game with the Oklahoma City Thunder, I’m almost positive that Mike Budenholzer would have gladly accepted a scenario where they held the visiting team to 44% from the field and 22% (!!) from 3-point range, while matching them stride-for-stride at the free throw line with 21 makes a piece.
However, the Hawks were granted that exact scenario in this particular game, and due to some excessively poor shooting, it wasn’t enough to gain a victory, as Atlanta fell to Oklahoma City, 101-92.
As a team, the Hawks shot a dismal 35.6% from the field on the night, and despite the aforementioned free throw proficiency, they simply couldn’t generate enough scoring opportunities to match the high-powered Thunder. Every member of the Atlanta starting five attempted at least 10 shots, but none were able to capitalize on even 50% of those attempts, and that set the tone for an ugly evening of offense.
Both teams made mini-runs throughout the first half, but the first separation of the night didn’t occur until the final 3 minutes of the 2nd quarter. Oklahoma City finished the half on a 10-3 run to grab a 9-point halftime lead, and the visitors took advantage of a 3-for-15 3-point shooting half from Atlanta to off-set their own offensive woes.
The second half began in much the same vein, as a small burst from the Hawks was quickly answered by an 8-0 run by OKC that gave him a 13-point lead at 60-47 with 7:58 remaining in the quarter. However, Atlanta made a valiant attempt to close the quarter on a strong note, finishing with a 9-4 run to cut the lead to just 8 at the end of 3. The score would have been closer, however, if not for two enormous jump shots from OKC’s Reggie Jackson, and those were acknowledged by Coach Bud in the post-game as a point of deflation for the entire team.
In the final period, the Hawks cut the OKC lead to 3 on two separate occasions, but were unable to get any closer. Lou Williams knocked down a triple at 10:18 mark of the quarter that sent Thunder head coach Scott Brooks scrambling for a timeout at 78-75, and later, Shelvin Mack exploded for a mini-burst of his own, slashing the margin to just 95-92 with 2:05 remaining. 3 seemed to be the opposite of a “magic” number, though, as the Hawks couldn’t fully nullify the lead, and OKC pulled away for the final, 9-point margin.
The aforementioned Shelvin Mack was probably the biggest bright spot in this one for Atlanta. The backup point guard scored 8 points (including two book-end threes) over a 3-minute stretch in the 4th quarter to almost singlehandedly vault Atlanta to the lead, and for the night, Mack finished with a career-high 17 points and 6 assists in only 19 minutes of game action. This continues a string of positive play from Shelvin, as he seems to be gaining the trust of everyone on the bench.
As far as the starters go, however, things weren’t so positive. Paul Millsap posted the best line of the night (by far) with 23 points and 12 rebounds in 37 minutes, but not even he was immune to shooting problems. Paul shot just 5-of-18 from the field on the night, and only a 11-for-12 showing from the charity stripe (which doubled as his career high in FT attempts) kept his efficiency at reasonable levels.
Next to Paul, the ugliness continued, as Al Horford (3 of 10), DeMarre Carroll (2 of 10), and Jeff Teague (5 of 15) each shot less than 35% from the field in the game. Al managed to grab 10 rebounds in the first half, but went utterly silent after the break, failing to tally a single point or rebound while going 0-for-4 from the field. Carroll was outstanding on the defensive end (despite a 30/10 from Kevin Durant, who actually didn’t play particularly well), but his offensive game was underwhelming (to put it mildly), and I would be surprised if his shot selection (contested jumpers) didn’t come under some controversy this week.
As for Teague, the Hawks point guard kept the team in it during the 3rd quarter, as he scored 13 of his 17 points during the frame. It was, by far, the most aggressive period of the game for Teague, and he helped to bring that assault on the rim to the entire team, as the Hawks generated 11 free throw attempts (making all of them) in the 3rd.
Kyle Korver, once again, brought a bit of sunshine to the Hawks on Tuesday night, as he extended his NBA record streak of consecutive games with a 3-pointer to 91 in a row. Kyle “waited” until his 4th attempt in this one before ending the suspicion, as his triple at the 11:15 mark of the 3rd quarter kept the record safe for another day. Overall, Kyle finished with just 9 points (on 4-10 FG, 1-6 3-PT), but the streak lives, and he was mostly solid despite a rough shooting night.
On the more positive side, Coach Budenholzer was quick to praise the defense in his post-game remarks, and I would wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. Transition defense was a serious point of emphasis in the pre-game, and the Hawks were able to soundly outperform OKC in that area, as Atlanta posted a season-high 30 fast-break points while holding the Thunder to just 14 of their own. The opening numbers on the defensive end (44% FG, 22% 3-PT) are more than acceptable, and the Durant/ Westbrook duo were held to a combined 15-42 (35.7%) from the field.
Losing a home game is never an overwhelmingly positive outcome, but there are certainly worse losses than this one for the Hawks. Oklahoma City is a bit of a juggernaut on both ends, as their top-5 efficiency numbers suggest, and Tuesday night was simply an instance of a team playing well in every aspect except putting the ball in the basket. Those nights happen in the NBA, but there are several positives to take away, and the team will be ready to pick up where they left off when they host the Washington Wizards on Friday night.