ATLANTA - It was the epitome of an easier-said-than-done statement. But the fact that Thunder forward and team captain Kevin Durant has recognized how much good something so simple can do spoke volumes after his team's 99-88 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night at Philips Arena. "We just need to learn from what other teams do as far as making runs and getting stops," Durant said after scoring a game-high 28 points.
The Thunder certainly isn't lacking quality examples. The Hawks gave Oklahoma City its latest fourth-quarter clinic, a 12-minute stretch Thunder players would be wise to dissect and digest between sips of eggnog this Christmas.
Six of the Hawks' 12 fourth-quarter field goals came from within eight feet. The Thunder had five layups or dunks in the fourth quarter, but only one came in the final 4 1/2 minutes, as Oklahoma City once again fell for the fool's gold that is a perimeter-oriented offense down the stretch.
Over the final 4 1/2 minutes, when the Hawks nursed a six-point lead, the Thunder went 3-for-10 from the field. Nine of the shot attempts were from outside of 9 feet, and the only attempt from within that distance came on Russell Westbrook's too-little-too-late layup with 17.9 seconds remaining.
The Hawks, on the other hand, saw their offense hum to the tune of 63.2-percent shooting in the fourth quarter as they outscored the Thunder 30-20 in the period. Hawks guard Joe Johnson led the charge by scoring nine points with six assists and four rebounds in the final period to contribute to his 20-point, 11-rebound, 11-assists triple-double.
"We may put two or three good stops together, but over the course of the game we've got to continue to do that," Durant said. "Teams make their run, but we've got to put them back on their heels by making ours as well. We could have made some more shots, but we didn't so we had to get stops on defense.
"Give credit to them for playing well tonight in the fourth quarter. This is a game we could have pulled out."
But, as coach Scott Brooks said, give the Thunder credit for making things interesting in the fourth quarter, a small feat that eluded this team early in the season.
Aside from the poor late-game decisions, the Thunder showed signs of progress, out-rebounding the Hawks 52-40 and limiting its turnovers to 12. Jeff Green recorded his second straight double-double with 18 points and 14 rebounds, and Chris Wilcox came off the bench to score 19 points with 12 rebounds.
"We're progressing every day, every game," Brooks said. "We have to continue to get better. ... We just have to continue to get stops in the fourth quarter and continue to believe in each other and trust each other on the defensive end."