I went down to Atlanta to visit family and take in the Eastern Conference leaders, the Atlanta Hawks. The PR staff for Atlanta were kind enough to roll out the red carpet for Hoopscritic.
First note, traffic is terrible in Atlanta. Actually, it’s terrible in every major city. Thankfully I left 30 minutes early to get to the arena by 5:30pm. Finding the Media Parking lot was no easy task in Atlanta. It’s actually under the highway. I found my way there after a few laps around the neighborhood and spend the better half of the decade finding a parking spot. But I made it.
I head into the media entrance and see the media room is packed. Tons of national guys and Sekou Smith walks in behind me. I make my way to the room to pick up the game’s information. NBA teams have many more stats than the internet has such as:
The Atlanta Hawks played host to the streaking Thunder, winner of 4 in a row and 7 of their last ten. Atlanta, the Eastern Conference’s best team looks to end that streak and continue their dominance against the Western Conference. Atlanta puts their 10-2 record against no conference teams to the test against Westbrook and Durant.
With a win tonight against the Thunder, this Hawks team will set the franchise record for most consecutive wins. The Hawks have won 14 straight games coming into tonight’s match up. They have held double digit leads in each of those 14 games. Atlanta is 30-1 when holding a lead of at least 10 points during a game.
To further demonstrate the Hawks dominance this season, they are only one of two teams to be Top 10 in both scoring and fewest points allowed per game. Over the past seven games, they have held their opponents to 89.7 points per game.
The player to watch in tonight’s game will be Jeff Teague as he matches up against the league’s best point guard, Russell Westbrook. Teague is just 2 three point field goals shy of tying Jamal Crawford for the 8th spot on the Hawks all time list for three pointers made at 282. Al Horford needs one double-double to tie Dikembe Mutombo for 9th in franchise history with 181.
After hanging out courtside while teams warmed up, players got their stretches and rubbing elbows with other media members, I headed up to my seat for the game. The hallways of the Philips Arena are lined with photos of famous artists performing here included the great Lil Bow Wow.
The first quarter started off with a few missed buckets as both teams were feeling each other out. Serge Ibaka led the Thunder with a monstrous dunk and a block in the first couple of possessions.
Pero Antic has been left open by everyone and didn’t make the Thunder pay. Atlanta missed a couple of easy buckets after making the extra pass. The Thunder turned to a zone defense late in the first quarter.
Rest will be something to keep an eye on as Westbrook and Serge played almost the entire first quarter. Kevin Durant and Westbrook combined for 21 first quarter points as the Thunder closed the quarter strong and took a 30-23 into the second.
Fun fact: The Hawks are undefeated when Korver dunks. Kyle had a fast break dunk in the second quarter.
The Thunder started with Durant-Morrow-Waiters-Jackson-Perkins. This line up struggled to score a point, in fact they went three scoreless minutes. Oklahoma didn’t get their first made field goal until 4 minutes into the quarter.
To make matters worse for the Thunder, after scoring 21 in the first quarter, Durant/Westbrook combined for 4 points. Westbrook went scoreless. They tried utilizing perimeter screen sets but turned into hero ball, which allowed the Hawks to force some turnovers and missed shots.
Mike Budenholzer’s adjustments paid off as they were able to head into the locker room with a one point lead despite playing poorly. They controlled the glass 26-18 at the half. They held the Thunder to 17 second quarter points.
I have to throw a hat tip to section 112. They stood on their feet the entire 1st quarter, leading all the chants. Who says the Hawks don’t have fans? When you win 14 in a row, people start to notice.
At the half, you get to stretch your legs, text your friends and do all the stuff you shouldn’t be doing if you are actually covering the game. The guy next to me has been searching for t-shirts online. Non-basketball related tees mind you.
The third quarter was a different story. Atlanta came out very aggressive. The frustrations on the Thunder side seemed to mount as Westbrook could be seen flopping, arguing with teammates and overall the team looking lost on rotations.
Atlanta continued to dominate the glass. They continued to defend Westbrook and Durant well, whom haven’t been able to get into a rhythm since the first quarter. Atlanta’s ability to get to the rim opened up a couple of things: free throw attempts and provided space for the three point shooters.
Atlanta took a 4 point lead into the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter started off for the Hawks the same way they left off the 3rd. Westbrook spent most of the beginning of the quarter at the end of the bench. He didn’t see playing time until about 8 minutes left in the game.
Dennis Schroeder was the difference maker in this game with 13 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds in 17 minutes. His ability to get to the basket really set the tempo for Atlanta in the second half.
The big story was Westbrook and Ibaka getting into an argument over a boxing out/missed rebound. Since that moment, the Thunder seemed defeated. Their frustrations boiled over into a loss against the best team in the Eastern Conference.
Atlanta improved to 36-8 and the Thunder fell to 22-21. I wonder what Kevin Durant will say after the game with his comments regarding the Hawks not being the best team. With the win, this Hawks team broke their franchise record with 15 games in a row. Al Horford tied Dikembe with his 181th double-double.
“We just continue to keep doing what we do. We had to continue to drive.” said Jeff Teague after the game. That was the big difference maker. Speaking with Bob Rathbun after the game, he said, “We had a camera angle from on top of the hoop looking into the huddle and not one player wasn’t paying attention. This team likes playing with each other and they like playing for this coach, this is a great group of guys.”
After the game, media member wait patiently for the teams to open the locker rooms to outsiders. A hoard of reports, especially a big game like this, shuffle in to ask players questions, get their sound bites, and finish their work before they get to go to bed. Until they do it all over again the next game. Which will be Sunday night when the Timberwolves come to town to battle the Hawks.