How did the short-handed Hawks measure up against the NBA’s best?
Just fine, thank you.
The Hawks won 97-90 over the Oklahoma City Thunder, who entered the game with the top record in the league, Saturday night in dramatic fashion. 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.
After losing a double-digit third-quarter lead, the Hawks used an 11-4 run to start the fourth quarter. The run was punctuated by Josh Smith’s monster dunk over the Thunder’s 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.
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 on his way to a team-high 30 points. He also grabbed three straight rebounds as the Hawks stopped the Thunder down the stretch.
Smith’s 12 rebounds gave him his 18th double-double of the season. The Hawks improved to 11-0 when Smith scores 20 or more points.
It was the second consecutive win for the Hawks (22-15) after losing nine of 13 games. They snapped a four-game losing streak to the Thunder (29-8), who had a 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 made 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. They never trailed after a Hinrich 3-pointer put them up 3-2 in the opening minute.
A 9-2 run in the second quarter grew the margin to its largest at 49-38.
Josh Smith and Jeff Teague each had 11 first-half points for the Hawks, who took advantage of 13 Thunder turnovers in the opening 24 minutes.
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 made his first field goal at the 5:54 mark of the first quarter and didn’t make his second until 56 seconds remained in the half.
Before the game Hawks coach Larry Drew said he did not consider the game a measuring stick, despite his team’s recent struggles.
“We know how good that team is,” Drew said. “Our focus is really for us to try to get better and improve in every game we play. Given what our situation is personnel-wise in dealing with the injuries we just try to get better.
“Now that we are going to play a lot of these guys who haven’t been playing a lot of minutes off the bench, all of a sudden they are put into a role where they are going to be playing a lot of minutes, we just try to monitor them and play the best we can play.”
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.
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