The Eastern conference can’t have more than two teams with a winning record, so after bringing the Indiana Pacers back down to earth, Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder went to work on the Atlanta Hawks, showing they can be just as dangerous and effective on the road as they are on their undefeated home run so far this season.
Durant, showing some anger and venom in his game and attitude of late – maybe because he keeps being mentioned as number 2 or even number 3 after the strong start Paul George has had to the season, finished with 30 points. The Thunder have now won 11 out of their last 12 games, and Durant is averaging 31.2 points per game over the last six.
Not even a horrific shooting game from Russell Westbrook, bound to happen from time to time when you play the way he does, couldn’t stop the Thunder from picking up the 101-92 win, holding on to a lead they built before going off to the halftime break. The Hawks did manage mini breaks to get back as close as three points from time to time, but Durant got hot whenever there was a need for it, keeping his team at a safe distance all along.
The Thunder, despite giving up 92 points, played some very good defense. The Hawks shot only 35.6% from the field, as the Thunder forced them to take bad shots and go through bad players. DeMarre Carroll shooting be taking 10 shots in a game, but that was what the Thunder pushed the game towards. Serge Ibaka and Durant each had two blocks, Russell Westbrook made up for his offensive inefficiency by stealing the ball four times, and the Hawks simply failed to get any rhythm going or find a play or shot that really worked for them, as even Korver finished with only 1-of-6 from beyond the arc.
They revved up their intensity on the defensive end, their physicality. We matched their intensity and were able to take that punch and give a bigger punch back on the defensive end. We finally got a couple stops in a row at the end. Any time you hold an NBA team in the 30s percent-wise in field goals, then you’re doing a good job defensively.
Championship team? Too early in the season, everybody knows. But the Thunder are playing better than anyone in the league right now with the exception of the Blazers, who also owe their excellent start to playing most of their big games at home so far.
The question about the Thunder splits into two: Will their defense be this committed and focused when it’s time for the more important games, and will Russell Westbrook be able to hide this part of him, the one that can’t stop taking bad shots and won’t hold himself back, when the season is on the line. According to him, his defense is actually the most important thing, probably one of the more surprising things we’ve heard him say, ever.
You have nights when you don’t make shots, but you can’t have nights when you don’t play defense. I take pride in defending every single night and trying to help my team win games.