Kevin Durant would have nothing to do with a Hawks comeback.
The Thunder star scored a game-high 41 points, including 18 in the fourth quarter, as the Hawks failed to overcome a 17-point deficit in a 100-92 loss Wednesday at Philips Arena.
The Hawks nearly erased the big deficit and pulled to within four points, 73-69, early in the fourth quarter. Then Durant went to work. He scored 18 of the Thunders’ next 22 points, including a stretch of 13 straight.
The Hawks continued to fight but could never pull closer.
“He’s very, very talented,” Hawks swingman DeShawn Stevenson said of Durant. “Sometimes you can play good defense but even good defense is not good enough for a guy who is 7-foot tall with a jump shot like that, with a handle. Tonight he had a great night. It was his night.”
Russell Westbrook added 27 points for the Thunder (21-4), who improved on their NBA-best record with their 12th straight victory. Westbrook scored 21 first-half points as the Thunder built their biggest lead in the second quarter. Durant and Westbrook accounted for 68 percent of the offense. Durant added 13 rebounds and Westbrook had 11 assists to complete double-doubles.
The Hawks (15-8) were led by Jeff Teague with 19 points. Josh Smith added 17 points and 12 rebounds. Al Horford and Lou Williams scored 13 points apiece. It was only the fourth loss for the Hawks in the past 16 games.
The Thunder took full control of the game in the second quarter building their insurmountable lead. They took a 55-41 advantage into the intermission as the Hawks shot just 37 percent (9-for-24) and made just one of their first seven shots in the second quarter. Westbrook had 12 points in the second quarter alone.
“It seems as the game progressed we wore down,” coach Larry Drew said of the first half. “We weren’t as sharp executing our sets. That resulted in some bad shots. We had a lot of bad shots in that first half. That was the reason we got down. I told the guys at halftime, when you play against a good team, a team who defends the way they do, you have to trust in what you do. It’s not a time to fragment. I thought early we played too much one-on-one and it resulted in a lot of bad shots. They got out and ran and attacked us to the run.”
The Hawks cut their deficit to 10 points early in the third quarter. Horford drove to the basket for a dunk and appeared to be fouled. Durant got a basket and the other end and then added a free throw when Horford was called for a technical for protesting the non-whistle. The Thunder would get their lead back to 17 points before the Hawks closed the third quarter on a 14-2 run to go into the final quarter down just seven points, 73-66. Smith had a 3-pointer, Zaza Pachulia had a pair of put-backs, Williams slammed two points on an alley-oop pass from Smith and Anthony Tolliver hit three free-throws.
Tolliver scored the first three points of the fourth quarter but the Hawks could get no closer.
“The second quarter they created too much separation,” Horford said. “Against a good team like this, we can’t have lapses that big. I felt the second half we fought, we played hard and we just couldn’t crack them to tie the game or take the lead.”
The Hawks credited their second-half run on a better defensive effort and energy sparked by Horford.
“We were tougher than in the first two quarters. I think it started with Al, when he drove to the bucket and there was no call,” Pachulia said. “… He got very aggressive and it definitely affected me. He got mad and it affected me and when I got in the game I tried to do the same.”
The game got physical with players exchanging words and both sides protesting calls. The Hawks, who had won two straight against the defending Western Conference champions, said they weren’t about to back down.
“We put our pants on just like they do,” Smith said. “We are not going to back down from anybody, no matter what the records says, no matter what the media says about a team. This is why I love this group of individuals in this locker room. We are not scared of anybody. We are willing to take the challenge. Unfortunately we just fell short tonight.”
The contest was the second of five back-to-back games already this season for the Hawks. After a day off Thursday, they play another road-home back-to-back at the Sixers Friday and versus the Bulls Saturday. The Hawks are 8-2 in back-to-backs this season.
- Chris Vivlamore
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