Aaron Colen, Sports Editor, Aaron.Colen@chickashanews.com
OKLAHOMA CITY —
The Oklahoma City Thunder came out flat and didn’t take care of the ball in Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, and paid for it with a home loss to an inferior team.
The Thunder lost the game 104-95, dropping to 1-2 this season. The Hawks are now 1-1.
Head coach Scott Brooks denied that his team needed a wake-up call this early in the season, and said that the effort his players have been giving in practice shows him that they aren’t just coasting. Still, Kevin Durant said the Thunder need to start games with more intensity.
“You can’t start the game out in cruise mode,” Durant said. “You’ve got to go take it. Teams aren’t going to let us just feel our way into the game. Early on, we just sat back and let them do whatever they wanted, and that gave them confidence toward the end of the game.”
Russell Westbrook agreed, saying the slow start combined with not playing consistently on both sides of the ball contributed to the loss.
“We started off slow, not making any shots,” Thunder guard Russell Westbrook said. “We have to find a way to put it together.”
Westbrook struggled the most offensively of any Thunder player who played major minutes, shooting 5-for-18. He did have nine assists to partially offset his poor shooting.
Atlanta played a much cleaner game than Oklahoma City. The Hawks only turned the ball over 11 times, compared to 20 times for the Thunder, and the Hawks scored 31 points off Oklahoma City turnovers. Durant turned the ball over six times, and Kevin Martin had four.
“I thought Atlanta did a good job of forcing turnovers, and they had some timely rebounds,” Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said. “We have to do a better job of taking care of the basketball. 20 turnovers on our home floor is not acceptable.”
Although the Thunder outrebounded the Hawks by one (38-37), Atlanta had a significant advantage in offensive rebounding, winning that battle 12-7. They scored 16 second-chance points to the Thunder’s eight.
Hawks forward Al Horford controlled the paint, scoring 23 points on 11-for-19 shooting and grabbing 12 rebounds, six of those on offense.
Durant played a balanced all-around game for the Thunder with 22 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists for his third-straight double-double, but it was the newcomer, Martin, who sparked Oklahoma City’s offense Sunday.
Martin scored 28 points in just under 30 minutes, shooting 8-for-11 from the field and 6-for-8 from three-point range.
“He’s a terrific scorer, and he scores in many ways,” Brooks said. “He’s a 3-point shooter, he’s a mover, he gets to the free throw line. I thought we did a good job of finding him open in transition and finding him in our offense.”
Besides turnovers, the other problem for the Thunder was defense. Oklahoma City allowed the Hawks to score nearly 30 points in three of the four quarters, although in the second quarter the Thunder only gave up 17.
“We can’t have that many breakdowns in a game, we just can’t,” Durant said. “And goes down the line, it’s not just one person, it’s everybody on the team.”
The Thunder struggled at times to finish defensive possessions, and Westbrook said that took away from the offensive success the team had.
“Doesn’t mean nothing if you can’t get stops,” Westbrook said. “We have to do a better job of being focused for 24 seconds.”
Besides Horford, Atlanta guards Lou Williams and Jeff Teague also gave the Oklahoma City defense some trouble. From the beginning of the game, Teague repeatedly got into the lane and scored 16 points. Williams didn’t shoot well at 5-for-14, but got to the free throw line nine times, making eight of those, and finished with 19 points.
Serge Ibaka was the fourth Thunder player in double-figures, scoring 14 points to go along with his five rebounds and three blocked shots.
Oklahoma City is scheduled to host the Toronto Raptors at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.