Hawks 97, Thunder 90
Nuggets from my notebook from notebook from Saturday’s loss at Atlanta.
- Russell Westbrook is a warrior. There’s no other word to describe him. Less than 48 hours after spraining his left ankle, Westbrook was back on the court, keeping his consecutive games played streak alive and bumping it to 283. Westbrook left Amway Center on Thursday night with an extremely bad limp and it looked like there was no way he’d be able to play. But then Thunder coach Scott Brooks announced at Saturday morning’s shootaround that Westbrook would be a game-time decision. It sounded like a smoke screen. And then Brooks announced about 75 minutes before tip-off that Westbrook would play. And as I sit here typing this, I still can’t believe Westbrook didn’t have to sit this one out.
- Not only did Westbrook play. He came out and played his butt off from the start. With his left ankle heavily tapped underneath an ankle brace, Westbrook showed no signs of the ankle being a burden. The first thing he did was run into Kirk Hinrich to set a screen. Then he started scoring. And scoring…and scoring…and scoring. Westbrook had 10 points in the first quarter on 4-of-5 shooting. He hit a jumper out of a post up on Jeff Teague. He drilled two 3s. And he got Jannero Pargo to bite on an up-and-under move for a jumper.
- As if Westbrook’s performance wasn’t impressive enough, it became clear in the locker room after the game that he did what he did with a still swollen ankle. His left foot was clearly puffier than his right, but he kept it moving like it was no big deal. Seeing that was an example of some of the things these athletes go through that every day fans have no idea about.
- Of course, Westbrook wasn’t happy with his performance. But rather than just rely on using the loss as reason, he pointed to specifics. “I did all right,” Westbrook said. “I could have done a better job of defending and rebounding. I didn’t get an opportunity to get no rebounds today. Especially at my position, if I can get loose balls it can lead to fast breaks. The next game, I’m going to do a better job of that.”
- This was the first time this season that Westbrook didn’t pull down a rebound. It was the first time since a 17-point win over Charlotte that he failed to grab at least one board.
- Only thing I didn’t like about Westbrook’s game tonight was he got trigger happy from 3-point range. He took a career-high eight. He made his first two, which, with the benefit of hindsight, might have been a bad thing, because then he missed five of his last six. And many of those last six were terrible shots. Some of it might have had to do with not having his customary explosiveness. But eight is too many for Westbrook, especially when they don’t come in the flow of the offense.
- OK. There was no offensive flow tonight. Turnovers destroyed any hope of that. The Thunder finished with 21 and watched them lead to 22 Hawks points. Amazingly, OKC had four in the first 1 minute, 55 seconds and five in the first 3 minutes, 56 seconds. Eight players had at least one turnover. Seven had at least two.
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks: “We got to fix it. We keep talking about it. We’re working on it. But we got to figure out that because it’s going to be hard to win night in and night out the way we turn it over.”
- More Brooks: “We are an attack team. We are an aggressive team. I understand that. But we still have to be solid with our decisions. It’s unacceptable having 20 turnovers in an NBA game.”
- The Thunder’s league-worst turnover rate is now at 16.83 per game. This was the 10th time this season that the Thunder had at least 20 turnovers.
- As I wrote for Sunday’s paper, the worst part of the turnovers was that they snowballed into selfishness. You could see players quickly losing trust in one another and taking it upon themselves. But that’s only a good way to get blown out. The ball movement became non-existent, and the Thunder finished with a season-low 11 assists as a result.
- Good news: Atlanta had just 11 offensive rebounds.
- Bad news: Zaza Pachulia had nine of them and got putbacks on several, scoring 10 points with 14 rebounds to help the Hawks rack up 16 second-chance points.
- Brooks: “We turned the ball over and we gave up too many offensive rebounds. They scored on just about every offensive rebound.”
- The turnovers came in just about every way possible. Traveling violations. Bad passes. Offensive fouls. Getting stripped. Fumbling the ball. You name it.
- Nick Collison: “We had a lot of bad ones. I had four myself, and I probably only catch the ball four times a game. We were just playing in traffic, trying to do too much.”
- Kendrick Perkins had three turnovers tonight, and all three came on offensive fouls.
- What’s the record for offensive fouls in a game? Because the Thunder and Hawks had to flirt with it tonight.
- Thabo Sefolosha is making progress.
- Not a good night for Perk. He picked up five fouls in 13 minutes and was whistled for his sixth and had to sit after playing just 15 1/2 minutes.
- With Perk in foul trouble, Brooks made a very interesting decision to go with Cole Aldrich with 6:33 left in the second quarter as opposed to bringing Nazr Mohammed back in. And then Brooks stuck with Cole in the second half. This could have been the game when Cole was actually freed, as many of you have wanted. It’s never safe to jump to conclusions after one game, but with 29 games to go the backup center job could now belong to Aldrich.
- Aldrich wasn’t bad in his 14 1/2 minutes, either. He was active around the rim, but what else is new? He pulled down a career-high seven rebounds and finished with three blocks to go along with six points. He missed a few bunnies that he should have made, but that could come with time. “I rushed them a little bit,” Aldrich said.
- I asked Brooks about his decision to play Aldrich over Naz and the tail end of his answer was very interesting. “I played Nazr and then Perk got in foul trouble,” Brooks said. “And then I went with Cole in the second half. I don’t know what I’m going to do next game. They both are professionals. They both prepare to play and we’ll see.” DUNT, DUNT, DUNT!!!
- Brooks was full of surprises tonight. He inserted Royal Ivey for Daequan Cook with 8:13 remaining in the third quarter. It was an uncharacteristically early hook. Cook never returned. “Royal gave us better minutes,” Brooks said plainly.
- Cook played 14 minutes tonight and didn’t get up a single shot. That can’t happen. He’s out there to space the court and make defenses pay for sagging off. He’s got to make them pay. But it wasn’t on him. It goes back to the turnovers and the offense bogging down. In a drive-and-kick system, Cook should be deadly. For him to not have a single shot attempt really says all you need to know about the offense tonight.
- I thought Brooks should have come back with Cook in the final minute. All the Thunder was doing was jacking up 3s. Why not throw your best 3-point shooter out there?
- Where was James Harden? This was one of those games where he got utterly lost on the court, overshadowed by Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Why does this team lose sight of its safety net so often?
- The officiating stunk in this game.
- The story of Reggie Jackson’s rookie season was seen just before a timeout with 6:53 left in the second quarter. Jackson brought the ball up the court after Jannero Pargo nearly got a steal in the backcourt. As Jackson looked to push, Harden lollygaged up the court and Jackson tried to wave him up. Harden didn’t budge. And then, Jackson had Vladimir Radmanovic guarding him and Brooks called a timeout. With Westbrook already waiting at the scorer’s table, Jackson’s first half was done.
- I can’t believe Jerry Stackhouse and Tracy McGrady are still in the league.
- There is a good chance that Ivan Johnson is the baddest dude in the league.
- There might not have been a more animated guy in the building than…the Hawks’ PA guy. Homeboy is great at his job, but he was talking to the refs and players like he was a fan. He shouted to Josh Smith to not fade away on his jump shot. He griped to one official about Serge Ibakagoing over the back. And, in general, he was oohing and ahhing at every big play in every big moment. I’ve never seen anything like it.
- Strange night for Ibaka. He had highlights and he was on the wrong end of the biggest highlight. He posterized Smith in the first half off a beautiful feed from Durant. And he swatted Johnson’s shot into the fourth row as Johnson tried to beat the buzzer. But then Josh Smith got him. Good too. It’ll be on SportsCenter all night. The best part of Smith’s dunk on Ibaka, though, was that he actually double clutched and still flushed it on him. I’m not sure I’ve seen such a thing. Just nasty.
- Of course, Smith missed the and one free throw.
- KD wowed the crowd, too, when he crossed up Marvin Williams and buried a 19-footer with two seconds left in the first half. Basketball fans in Atlanta come to see those types of highlights. And, in general, they really don’t care who wins. It’s always crazy to see fan bases like that.
- Speaking of Hawks fans. Atlanta tries to do the whole stand up until the first basket thing. But when you look around the building, most are sitting down grubbing or just watching. Gives you more of an appreciation for how Thunder fans treat that routine.
- Up next. Dallas on Monday.
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