The Thunder eventually might become a threat in the Western Conference playoffs, but so far this season beleaguered teams like the Atlanta Hawks (7-25) have excelled against OKC (17-15) as it tries to smooth out the kinks of a roster loaded with three perennial All-Stars.
Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony have collectively struggled with their shooting. Friday night was no different for George (4 for 12) and Anthony (8 for 19), who shot a combined 12 for 31 (.387) from the floor.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, Westbrook sizzled by shooting 12 for 17 from the field, which included swishing a game-winning 28-footer with 1.7 seconds left for a 120-117 victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Last year’s Most Valuable Player finished with 30 points, 15 assists and seven rebounds to overshadow a superb second-half shooting exhibition by the Hawks, who were without point guard Dennis Schroder (sprained left ankle).
Atlanta overcame a 16-point deficit early in the third quarter and led 92-88 with 8:49 left before eventually being done in by Westbrook’s long-range dagger.
“With his speed and explosion, it’s tough to get into him that far away from the basket,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said afterward. “When he’s attacking and getting downhill, that’s not easy. So, when he pulls up three or four feet behind the 3-point line … no doubt he’s capable of doing it.”
Atlanta reserve guard Malcolm Delaney scored 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting “This is one of the toughest games we have played,” Delaney said. “Playing against Westbrook, (he’s) probably the most aggressive and non-stop player in the game right now. They go as he goes, and I think today we matched their competitiveness and energy.”
The Hawks shot 56.5 percent (26 for 46) from the field after intermission, including 53.3 percent (8 for 15) from 3-point range.
“For our team, I hope they can take away the way that we played in the second half and try to get better defensively,” Budenholzer said. “Very pleased with a lot of things tonight – a lot individually and a lot collectively.”