ATLANTA -- The Oklahoma City Thunder own the third best record in the Western Conference. The ATLANTA Hawks are third in the Eastern Conference. But the perception of these teams couldn't be any different.
Thunder forward Kevin Durant led all scorers with 30 points. His breakaway dunk off a feed from guard Russell Westbrook capped a 13-0 Oklahoma City run, after the Hawks closed to within three, 78-75, with 10:16 to play.
"We were able to take that punch and give a bigger punch back," said Durant. "We always just tell each other 'weather the storm,' no matter what. If they close the lead or if were down 20, just weather the storm and keep working and keep pressing."
Down 10 midway through the fourth quarter, Hawks guard Shelvin Mack and forward Paul Millsap fueled ATLANTA's last charge. Mack's second corner 3-pointer of the fourth quarter cut the Oklahoma City lead to 93-89 with 3:28 to play. But Westbrook would hit an up-and-under reverse layup, and Durant would seal the win at the free-throw line.
"Russell didn't shoot the ball well, but he had a great floor game," said Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks. "There were a lot of good performances on the defensive end. Anytime you hold an NBA team in the thirties in shooting percentage, you're doing a good job defensively."
Behind Durant and backup point guard Reggie Jackson, the Thunder threatened to pull away in the third quarter. The lead ballooned to 15, but Hawks point guard Jeff Teague would keep his team in the game. Teague scored 13 of his 17 points in the third quarter. Jackson hit two difficult shots late in the third quarter, including a running pull-up jumper at the buzzer that gave the Thunder a 76-68 leading heading into the fourth.
Millsap finished with 23 points to lead the Hawks (11-11), whose up-and-down season under new coach Mike Budenholzer continues. ATLANTA played hard for their new coach, but still lacks the star power to threaten the top teams in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks shot 35.6 percent on the night.
"We competed, but we didn't play real well," said Budenholzer. "I will take a competitive group, but I'd like it if we played well also. We left a lot of points (on the board)."
The Hawks held the Thunder to zero fast-break points in the first quarter and did a good job of contesting Durant and Westbrook around the rim. But ATLANTA got sloppy late in the second quarter, turning the ball over on bad decisions in the paint, which led to Thunder run-outs. A Durant breakaway dunk off a turnover from Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll extended the Oklahoma City lead to seven. The Thunder took a 48-39 lead into halftime.
"I felt like the whole first half we were missing layups," said Budenholzer. "We missed some free throws, we missed some good shots. Some nights the ball doesn't go in the basket and you have to continue to play defense. I thought our defense gave us a chance tonight to stay in the game."
NOTES: Oklahoma City rookie F Andre Roberson was moved into the starting lineup in place of G Thabo Sefolsha, who sat out with a knee sprain. ... The Hawks entered Tuesday's game having scored 100 points in four consecutive games. ... ATLANTA's first-round draft pick, C Lucas Nogueira, chose to suspend his contract with his Spanish League team to address issues with his knees. ... The Hawks scored 37 points in the first quarter of Friday's win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. ATLANTA scored 39 in the first half against Oklahoma City. ... The Hawks will look to rebound Friday, when the Washington Wizards visit. ... Oklahoma City heads to Memphis on Wednesday to complete a three-game-in-four-night stretch.