Nights like this, the Thunder does not need. But nights like this are unavoidable in the NBA; lightly-regarded opponents can put the hurt on you in seemingly no time at all. The 13-30 Atlanta Hawks qualify as certified vendors of hurt, having run up not one but two 45-point quarters on the way to crushing OKC 142-126, despite the absence of Kent Bazemore and Jeremy Lin and Miles Plumlee. Was the return of John Collins a factor? Maybe; Collins was good for 26 points, but Alex Len and Trae Young put up 24 each, and even Vince Carter, born in Mesopotamia in 2811 BC, managed 11. The Angry Birds took only 90 shots, and made 56 of them, a walloping 62 percent. And then there were those 18 made treys out of 37. What’s more, they did all this while giving up their usual worst-in-the-league 18 turnovers and making only 12 of 16 free throws while the Thunder hit 31 of 41.
So what happened? Can’t be the Thunder offense, which, after all, did score 126 points. But the Hawks played like the Thunder defense wasn’t there, and for long stretches it was no illusion. Look at those 36 Hawk assists. That’s the sign of being able to move the ball at will. When you’re faced with this sort of thing, the first impulse is to try to outshoot the other guys. But if they’re shooting 62 percent, a step or two beyond Lights Out, this strategy is doomed. And so were the Thunder, despite leading by three after three quarters. Russell Westbrook had a worthy 31-6-11 line, but that got him a +1 for the night. Jerami Grant had a nice, crisp 21, and he wound up minus-9. The Thunder bench did come up with 30, but Dennis Schröder had 21 of them.
The Lakers are in town Thursday night, and, say the sports guys, Jeanie Buss has put her expensively-shod foot down and refused to send Luke Walton packing. This suggests turmoil, even if LeBron is back to being like LeBron.