OKLAHOMA CITY – Going against reigning Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook is a tall enough task when the OKC Thunder’s opponent is completely healthy.
Sporting the NBA’s worst record, an already depleted Atlanta team was without its best player in point guard Dennis Schroder on Friday night before a sellout crowd of 18,203 inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Despite all this potential doom and gloom, the Hawks gallantly fought before falling 120-117 on a Westbrook 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds left.
Atlanta (7-25) nearly became another lower-division team to stun OKC (17-15) this season, a list that already includes Sacramento, Dallas, Orlando, Brooklyn and Charlotte.
Schroder injured his left ankle in Wednesday night’s home loss to Indiana and went through his pre-game warmup session Friday, but did not play. It was Schroder’s third missed start of the season. A sprained left ankle also kept him out of games at Miami and at Chicago on Oct. 23 and 26, respectively. His status for Saturday night’s home game against Dallas is unknown.
OKC was coming off a 107-79 demolition at home over Utah two nights earlier and appeared primed to do the same to the visiting Hawks, who also were without 7-foot center Dewayne Dedmon, who has now missed 12 straight games with a left tibia stress reaction.
Marco Belinelli led the Hawks with 27 points that included five 3-pointers. Ersan Ilyasova, who tied the game at 117 by converting two free throws with 11.1 seconds remaining, finished with 22 points while Malcolm Delaney scored 20 off the bench on 7-of-10 shooting.
Atlanta played OKC to a 28-28 draw in the first quarter as both teams shot 11 for 22 from the field, but the Hawks opened the second quarter by missing their first five shots and the Thunder responded by taking a 49-34 midway through the period.
That’s when an underachieving OKC squad allowed another outmanned opponent to stick around.
Atlanta went on an 11-0 run to pull within 74-70 with five minutes left in the third quarter and trailed by just 82-81 at the end of the period. The Thunder helped the Hawks’ cause with eight turnovers and 3-of-10 free-throw shooting in the quarter.
The hustling Hawks took a 92-88 lead with 8:49 left in the game, but OKC countered with a 16-5 run after a timeout to take a 104-97 lead with 5:26 left.
Westbrook led the Thunder with a game-high 30 points and 15 assists. Anthony added 24 points and Adams scored 17.