Last night Mason and I attended the OKC Thunder/Atlanta Hawks game. The Hawks went into the game undefeated (four wins, no losses); the Thunder, 1-4. I know I (and probably most others watching the game) was expecting a good old-fashioned ass kicking, and while we did lose, the beating wasn’t as bad as I was expecting.
The Hawks jumped out to an early lead, leaving the Thunder in the dust at 0-7. The Thunder scored a couple of baskets but the Hawks stayed out in front, leading 5-16 early on in the first. For all of the first quarter and most of the second, it seemed like the Thunder could not find a play that worked. They missed layups, they missed 15-foot jumpers, they missed free throws, they missed alley-oops, they missed three pointers … and yet somehow the score remained close. At one point I remember being down by five and asking the guy next to me, “doesn’t it seem like we should be losing by more than five points?” He agreed.
Late in the second, the Thunder pulled it together. They made a few steals, sunk a few baskets, and unbelievably went into halftime leading by three points. Nobody thought the lead would last, and ultimately it didn’t, but at early in the fourth quarter the Thunder were actually up by seven. Would it be possible for the Thunder to beat the undefeated, number-one ranked Atlanta Hawks?
No, it would not be possible. The Hawks put all their starters back in and taught the Thunder a little lesson called, “welcome to the NBA.” The Hawks scored 31 in the fourth quarter, taking the ball away from the Thunder at will. A late attempt at that age ol’ classic plan “foul-the-shooter” was too little too late for the Thunder. Mason (Desmond, not my son) hit a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left that brought the Thunder within 4, and that’s where the game ended (89-85, Hawks).
Sometimes a game’s end score doesn’t reflect the feeling of the night. While the Thunder only lost by four, the game never really felt that close. Even when we were winning it didn’t feel like we were the better team. For two years I watched the OKC Hornets blow third quarters and try fourth-quarter rallies. The Thunder have a similar but slightly inverted approach of building up third quarter leads and then blowing them in the fourth. The Thunder are going to have to learn how to close out games (and get some good draft picks over the next two or three years) to become contenders.
NBA.com ranks the Thunder 25th out of 30 teams — not bad considering at the beginning of the season, we were ranked dead last.