Vivlamore reporting from Philips Arena. Here is my updated game story from tonight’s Hawks win over the Thunder.
How did the short-handed Hawks measure up against the NBA’s best?
Just fine, thank you.
The Hawks won 97-90 over the Thunder, who entered the game with the top record in the league, in dramatic fashion Saturday night. Already without two centers, the Hawks played without leading scorer Joe Johnson and reserve guard Willie Green and lost Tracy McGrady to a knee injury in the first quarter.
“We were able to compete at a very high level against probably the best team in the league,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “Win, lose or draw I thought our guys did a phenomenal job and just competing given what the situation was. I take my hat off to every guy in the locker room.”
The Hawks now own wins over the top three teams in the NBA record-wise in the Thunder, Heat and Bulls
It was a win – keyed by the double-double effort of Josh Smith.
After losing a double-digit third-quarter lead, the Hawks outscored the Thunder 11-4 to start the fourth quarter. The run was punctuated by Smith’s monster dunk over the Serge Ibaka that brought Philips Arena to its collective feet. His dunk on the ensuing possession ignited the crowd further and gave the Hawks an 87-79 lead with 4:41 to play.
“It was real big,” said Smith, who tied his season-high with 30 points. “We needed a momentum shift. They were getting on a little run in the fourth quarter and being able to come down with that flush definitely got the crowd involved and it definitely woke my teammates up a little bit. It felt great.”
Smith’s 3-pointer with 2:01 remaining kept the Hawks lead at four, 92-88, after the Thunder had pulled within one. His hook gave the Hawks a five-point lead, 95-90, with a minute to play. Smith scored 13 of the final Hawks’ 15 points.
But the highlight-reel dunk was the talk of the winning locker room.
“When you are playing with a guy like that you have to love it,” Marvin Williams said. “When he dunked on Ibaka I just laughed. I hadn’t seen him make a play like that in a long time. I’ve seen him make a lot of plays over the years but that is probably top five for sure.”
Smith also grabbed three straight rebounds as the Hawks stopped the Thunder down the stretch. His 12 rebounds gave him his 18th double-double of the season. The Hawks improved to 11-0 when Smith scores 20 or more points.
“He is one of a few players in this league who can impact both ends of the floor,” Drew said of Smith, who scored 24 points in Friday’s win over the Bucks. “When it all comes together, when it really clicks, he will be an All-Star because of his talent level. I think he is starting to see what he is capable of. I told him, he is a player we have to go through. We need his energy. We need him to be that impact player, particularly just with the energy because we feed off his energy and the rest of the guys step it up.”
It was the second win in as many nights for the Hawks (22-15) after losing nine of 13 games. They snapped a four-game losing streak to the Thunder, dating back to Dec. 23, 2008. The Thunder (29-8) had their seven-game win streak snapped.
Jeff Teague added 16 points and Zaza Pachulia and Kirk Hinrich had 10 each for the Hawks.
Kevin Durant, the NBA’s second-leading scorer, finished with a game-high 35 points for the Thunder – 14 coming from the free-throw line. Russell Westbrook, the league’s fifth leading scorer, finished with 25 points.
The Thunder stormed back in the third quarter to erase a 10-point lead. They used a 16-6 run to take their first lead of the game, 71-70, since Westbrook’s game-opening basket. The Hawks led 76-75 after the third quarter only because of Jannero Pargo’s 3-pointer at the buzzer. He hit another to start the fourth quarter to make the lead four points, setting up the hectic final minutes.
The Hawks led by as many as 11 points in the first half. The Thunder managed to cut the lead to six, 53-47, at the intermission. Durant and Westbrook each had 13 points in the first half. Durant hit his first field goal at the 5:54 mark of the first quarter and didn’t hit his second until 56 seconds remained in the half.
Prior to the game, Drew was reluctant to call the game a measuring stick, considering the team’s recent stretch, losing nine of 13 before the two-game win streak. Following the game he said simply “You can call it that.”
“It just shows when we play with energy – without two All-Stars ourselves – when you play with energy in this league, especially with the way the schedule is compacted, a lot of times you are going to have a real good chance to win,” Hinrich said.
McGrady suffered a strained left knee in the final seconds of the first quarter after being fouled on a drive to the basket. He missed two free throws and immediately went to the locker room. He did not return and the Hawks had no further update following the game.