Plucking the Dirty Birds

The Atlanta Hawks, when they want to, can get seriously physical. For most of this game, they wanted to, and they had reason to: the Birds’ visit to OKC on New Year’s Eve ended with a bit of controversy. But the absence of enforcer Josh Smith made this trickier than they might have wanted, and the Thunder, despite being outrebounded by the Hawks, hightailed it out of the ATL with a 111-104 win.

The shuffled Hawks lineup put newly-acquired reserve guard Kirk Hinrich in a starting role, and he rose to the occasion with 21 points; sturdy sixth man Jamal Crawford added 19 off the bench, and Joe Johnson turned in a Joe Johnson-like performance, with 24 points, though 18 of those came in the first half. And Al Horford kept clearing the boards: he collected 12 rebounds to go with 15 points. The Birds shot a creditable 47.6 percent, and moved the ball around well — 23 assists — but they gave up 16 turnovers, handing the Thunder 27 points.

Russell Westbrook, who rolled up a triple double in that earlier game, was a little bit cooler this time: 28 points, three rebounds, nine assists. Kevin Durant, who was upgraded from “doubtful” to “game-time decision” this morning, wound up playing almost 40 minutes anyway, scoring 29. The Nazr Mohammed/Nick Collison combo in the middle seems to be working out pretty well: Collison gets more minutes, but Mohammed displays a shade more flash. And after faltering at the foul line of late, the Thunder returned to form, dropping 20 of 21 from the stripe. They even shot over 50 percent from the floor (gasp!).

So for the second year in a row, the Hawks are swept. Still, they’re a solid fifth in the East, and the Knicks don’t seem to be catching up. Meanwhile, the Thunder have five road games in the next seven, though first there’s a Sunday meeting with the Suns.

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