Thunder answer Westbrook’s wakeup call in win
OKLAHOMA CITY — Early in the second quarter, Russell Westbrook yelled from the bench.
“Wake up,” he implored his team.
Oklahoma City listened, if only for a moment, to the NBA’s reigning MVP by responding with a strong second quarter in the 120-117 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night.
But after a dismal third quarter and inconsistent fourth, the Thunder won the game coming out of a timeout with 11.4 seconds left on a deep triple from Westbrook (30 points, 15 assists) to break a 117-117 tie.
“Besides the shot, he was unbelievable tonight,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “Because it wasn’t going well in the third quarter and his enthusiasm and positivity, his leadership was really, really good for our team. We got so stagnant on both sides of the ball. We had that period there where we just didn’t play particularly well.”
“That last possession, he made a great read in terms of what was given to him and it was a really clean, pretty good look from behind the line.”
Before the second quarter, Oklahoma City (17-15) played Atlanta evenly, finishing the first quarter tied 28-28. The Thunder were shooting 50 percent from the floor, including 50 percent from beyond the arc.
With the Thunder going against the team with the NBA’s worst record, their effort wasn’t nearly good enough.
Spurred by Westbrook’s words and a renewed sense of urgency, the Thunder turned it around in the second quarter thanks to the hot shooting of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.
Anthony finished with 24 points and George scored 17.
Atlanta, meanwhile, struggled after the first quarter, when it also shot 50 percent (11 of 22) from the floor.
But the Thunder’s third-quarter troubles resurfaced after halftime, and Atlanta (7-25) whittled Oklahoma City’s once-15-point lead to six in less than two minutes.
Atlanta’s Marco Belinelli was a big reason for keeping the game close as he scored 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting.
“Marco had a great rhythm, great energy, was moving well coming off of screens, aggressive — hopefully trying to make them pay for some of their aggressiveness,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He’s a great offensive player. He rose to the challenge tonight, no doubt.”
Ersan Llyasova added 22 points and Malcolm Delaney had 20.
With the Thunder’s field-goal drought in the final 4:16 of the third quarter and two buckets from rookie John Collins, Oklahoma City entered the fourth clinging to a one-point lead.
The Hawks continued their momentum in the fourth quarter and took a four-point lead on back-to-back breakaway dunks by Bazemore.
“The game was close because of their ability in really crucial situations to make really, really timely shots, hard shots,” Donovan said. “Give them credit, they made some really difficult shots. Didn’t think our defense was anywhere near where it was in the last game. That’s something we have to clean up.
“We had that lull up 15 and closed that quarter and allowed them to get right back in the game. I thought that was why it was so close coming down the stretch.”
Westbrook re-entered the game with 8:40 to go and promptly took control of the game with a three-point play and an assist to Jerami Grant to regain the lead.
The teams traded buckets for the next three minutes, but Anthony hit his sixth 3-pointer of the night with 5:26 to go to give the Thunder a seven-point lead.
That didn’t seal the win, however, as triples from Belinelli and Bazemore kept the game within a possession.
But the Thunder found a way to outlast the Hawks, getting crucial shots in the final minutes, capped with Westbrook’s game-winner.
“We feel good going down the stretch,” George said. “That we’re going to make the right plays, get a basket. Whereas before, we didn’t know where or how we were going to close. I think we know now how to close and where we’re going to close.”
NOTES: Atlanta G Dennis Schroder did not play after suffering a left ankle injury against Indiana, leaving the Hawks without two starters. C Dewayne Dedmon missed yet another game with a left tibia stress fracture diagnosed in late November. ... Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer took issue with the officials after Thunder PG Russell Westbrook knocked Kent Bazemore in the head in the follow-through of a breakaway dunk. Budenholzer and Westbrook engaged in a brief shouting match afterward, but officials declined to review the play for a flagrant foul. ... Westbrook was called for an unsportsmanlike technical foul for shoving Malcolm Delaney after a play was over in the second quarter. ... The Thunder made only 19 of 31 free throws while the Hawks connected on 14 of 17.