By Anthony Slater – Aslater@opubco.com - @anthonyVslater
Throughout the game, there was a general feeling that Oklahoma City would eventually pull away and win. They were the better and healthier team. And they were at home. But mid-way through the fourth quarter, Lou Williams, Atlanta’s key free agent pickup, scored 10 straight Hawks points, turning a tie game into a seven-point lead. Riding Williams’ momentum, the Hawks never relinquished that lead.
It was over when…
…Russell Westbrook attempted to make a hustle play, but committed one of basketball’s cardinal sins. He saved the ball under his basket, swinging it behind his back directly to Al Horford for an easy dunk. It put the Thunder down six with less than three minutes left and sucked the energy out of the arena.
Atlanta came in with no fear, and much of that can be attributed to the attitude of their talented and confident point guard. Jeff Teague didn’t back down early, shooting over the top and going right at the Thunder defense. Twice, Teague dunked right on OKC starters (Durant and Ibaka). And twice, he stared them down after the act, winking and talking trash. It set the tone.
Star of the game – Al Horford
Atlanta’s All-Star center is healthy and productive again. And on Sunday, he schooled OKC’s struggling frontline, dropping 23 points, grabbing 12 boards and controlling the paint for much of his productive 33 minutes. Meanwhile, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins combined to snatch only eight defensive rebounds.
For an extended period, it looked like Kevin Durant was headed toward his first career triple-double. He would eventually fall short, but still finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, while adding three steals and two blocks. Durant’s fingerprints were on nearly every play, showing up all over the court on both ends. His most impressive stat? Sunday’s 12 rebounds gave him 43 in three games (or 14.3 per contest).
But the loaded box score wasn’t all good for KD. The Thunder had a season-high 20 turnovers on Sunday, and six of them came from Durant. Through three games, he’s committed 16 of them.
OKC’s newest weapon is playing about as good as can be expected. Off the bench, Kevin Martin scored a game-high 28 points on just 11 shots, playing his best game in an impressive three game stretch. Since joining the Thunder, Martin has been unconscious from deep, hitting 12 of his 17 threes (70.5 percent) and averaging 20.6 points per game.
“We know there’s work to be done. And we’re an organization full of workers.” -Scott Brooks
Stat of the game
Last season, Oklahoma City only lost once at home to an Eastern Conference team (Cleveland), going 8-1 overall. With Sunday’s loss to Atlanta, that number has already been matched.
Tweet of the game
It got pretty loud at times, but the sustainable energy just hasn’t consistently been the same.
Mediocre Eastern Conference teams fill OKC’s schedule early this season. And round two comes Tuesday night, with the Toronto Raptors coming to Chesapeake Energy Arena. Following that, the Thunder plays Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit twice. That’s a soft stretch, and one OKC needs to take advantage of, stringing together a batch of relatively easy wins while still developing chemistry.