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Thunder Overcomes Hawks


Luguentz Dort and Cason Wallace were the main protagonists, jumping off the top rope, delivering their share of town elbows and RKOs, putting the Atlanta Hawks' backline through hell, in the Oklahoma City Thunder's 126-117 victory Monday in the NBA.

Dort and Wallace's Effort

These moves took shape as steals in the lane, planting their feet in front of Atlanta's perimeter players and probably actual elbows at some point. Naturally, Dort's defensive playmaking ability stifled the Hawks' chances of survival.

As soon as Trae Young launched the three-pointer with 1:30 to play, Dort lunged forward to give the ball a five-finger slap. Dort, who finished with 19 points, nine rebounds and two blocks, sent the ball toward Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who then lofted it into the air for an anxious Jalen Williams for the Lobs, virtually closing the curtain.

The Hawks' explosive 40-point final quarter, which included 15 free throw attempts, was not exemplary of the first 36 minutes. Oklahoma City rotated constantly. Dort kept his assignments in check. Wallace licked his lips in the passing lanes, collecting four steals.

Anything that smelled to the hoop, rookie Chet Holmgren was there to disrupt. He added three blocks to his double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds. His mere presence forced Young into awkward breakaway passes and positions in the air that even Twister wouldn't ask for. At one point, it leaked into Atlanta's opportunities. Point-blank floaters fell short, open shots in the corner missed.

Young and Dejounte Murray combined to shoot 12-of-34. At halftime, the Hawks were shooting 29.1 percent from the field. Both entered the fourth quarter with 77 points. Somewhere in between, the Thunder increased their lead. Williams racked up lobs and dunks and a shot over the third quarter buzzer en route to 21 points.

SGA, in his first game back from a sprained knee, did his thing: incredible mid-range shooting, layups in transition, getting to his spots at will. He finished with 30 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

When the game slowed down in the fourth quarter, Atlanta found some shots. They found the free throw line. And still, Dort and friends found their way back to gutsy plays like his block, Williams' lob or even Holmgren's late answer.

It was too early to say it before, but after Monday night, Williams all but confirmed it. The Thunder might just be a team of lobs now.

The Key Is in Young Talent

Of course, there are no close-ups of Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan plying the Paycom Center. The Thunder have a tall, fragile rookie who can reach far beyond where he stands.

The team has Williams, who likes to finish above the rim when he can. And it has other players who get unmarked, and the passers to find them in the air.

After how well they got unmarked as a team last year and how often they find success doing it in the half court, they found that passing lobs reduced the window defenders had to recover. In addition, Williams focuses on aesthetics.

For all the talk about his defensive reputation, Dort has provided a boost to the Thunder's efficiency. On Friday, it took him 10 field-goal attempts to miss one shot. On Monday, he shot 6-of-10, hit two of his five three-pointers and made all five of his free throws. Against the New Orleans Pelicans, he hit three of his six three-point attempts.

It is a short, very short sample. Tiny. As is the sample size for Oklahoma City's overall efficiency. But it's something both the team and Dort are emphasizing. It's not sustainable, but he's currently shooting 51.4% from distance. Confidence, shooting ability, reliability.

All of that has made him as important a player as ever in the early season. If he and Josh Giddey had trouble making baskets at the same time, it wouldn't be pretty.

But if Dort can channel a level of efficiency similar to what he has shown recently, it would be impossible not to consider him as part of OKC's long-term plans.

Gilgeous-Alexander saw it during his only game on the bench. He's seen it during the games he's played in. And while it wasn't the story Monday, rebounding issues have become a recurring reason for the Thunder.

He and his teammates have expressed what is needed to fix it. There is constant mention of a collective effort from all five players. Helping Holmgren as he battles monsters and big wings in the paint.

And finally, after picking up seven defensive rebounds on Monday itself, SGA was as candid as it has ever been on the subject.

He did his part against the Hawks. So did Dort, who had seven defensive rebounds. Part of it is the luck behind the way the ball rebounds. Part of it is having a natural talent for the ball. SGA and the Thunder are still figuring it all out.

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