With Dwight Howard ailing, the Atlanta Hawks tried something new: small ball. Really small ball. And for much of the night, it utterly befuddled the Thunder, who couldn’t get inside and who still can’t shoot 3-pointers. In the second quarter, OKC stabilized a bit, and rolled up 37 points, more than twice what they’d garnered in the first and enough to take a five-point lead into the locker room. The Hawks stiffened further in the third, going up three; but then the Thunder caught fire, and not just Russell Westbrook either. Unfortunately, the Hawks were still doing land-office business, and with 1:20 to play, it was tied at 106. Atlanta struck first with a Dennis Schröder pull-up jumper; Westbrook came back with a jumper of his own. Paul Millsap then swished one through, Westbrook put up a trey that missed, Steven Adams stuck it back, but it was just a hair too late. Atlanta 110, Oklahoma City 108, and the season series ends 1-1.
And really, how could the Hawks lose, after shooting nearly 55 percent? With the small lineup, they didn’t get the rebounds — OKC dominated the boards to the tune of 43-35 — but they whipped the ball around like nobody’s business, 24 assists to only 13 for the Thunder. (It wasn’t that long ago that Westbrook alone could serve up 13 dimes.) With four of five starters in double figures, and Kyle Korver close behind, Atlanta had some serious offense, at least some of the time. Schröder knocked down 31 points, Millsap 30. What the Hawks didn’t have was bench scoring: only 14 points for the four reserves playing. Jerami Grant had more than that all by himself. But Westbrook’s 46-11-7 and Andre Roberson’s jewel-like 14 points weren’t quite enough, and Anthony Morrow, starting again in place of the wounded Victor Oladipo, had an off night (1-5, four points).
The Pelicans will be waiting in New Orleans on Wednesday; after that, it’s off to Boston. (The Sunday — Christmas — game will be against Minnesota at the ‘Peake.)