By Randy Renner
Just when you figured there was no realistic hope left the Oklahoma City Thunder, urged on by a roaring crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena, fought back to beat Atlanta 123-115.
The Thunder were down 12 points and three starters and were playing the best team in the Eastern Conference a few hours after learning superstar forward Kevin Durant might have played his last game this season.
So realistically there was just no way this wounded team would find a way to knock off the high-flying Hawks.
And then they did.
The Thunder have somehow managed to play some of their best basketball when staring in the face of the worst adversity.
Russell Westbrook, the superhuman, superstar point guard the Thunder have counted on more and more in the absence of Durant came through yet again with another triple-double, his ninth of the season.
Westbrook finished with a game-high 36 points while handing out 14 assists and pulling down 10 rebounds. In the critical 4th quarter he had 15 points and was a perfect 8-for-8 at the free throw line.
Dion Waiters, starting in place of Durant, had some KD-like numbers with 26 points on 11-for-18 shooting, his best overall game since coming over from Cleveland.
And what can you say about Anthony Morrow? He dropped 3-bomb after 3-bomb on the Hawks, finishing with 21 points on 6-for-10 shooting all from beyond the arc. Four of those threes came in the 4th quarter and each one lit a fire under the 18,203 fans inside The Peake. The place was roaring like an F-16 engine and the Hawks were helpless to turn down the noise.
"I thought this game was won in a couple areas," said head coach Scott Brooks. "First our crowd was fantastic, they gave us the energy we needed. And then the defense in the 4th quarter, we finally got some stops."
After shooting 55.9 percent through three quarters the Hawks went cold in the last 12 minutes, scoring just 20 points on 34.8 percent shooting. And after hitting 13 threes through the first three quarters Atlanta didn't hit one at all (0-for-4) in the last quarter.
"Our guys played with great spirit and now we have to turn around and do it again," Brooks said.
The Thunder host the Miami Heat on Sunday afternoon and they may be even more shorthanded then than they were Friday night. Forward Nick Collison, who had a tremendous game with 13 points, five rebounds and a couple of key blocks, rolled his ankle late in the game and was unable to return.
"I don't feel very good right now," Collison said in the lockerroom. "But we'll see how it is tomorrow." Collison left in a walking boot and on crutches. He is the only Thunder regular who started the season in OKC who has not yet missed a game due to injury.
Considering what has happened to this team in the last few days, Serge Ibaka's knee surgery, Enes Kanter's sprained ankle and then the topper of toppers, GM Sam Presti's announcement that he was shutting down Durant indefinitely, a come from behind win over the best team in the Eastern Conference has to come as a huge boost.
But the effort can't end with an improbable win over Atlanta, it has to be something to build on as the playoffs approach.
After tonight, the Thunder and their fans have to be thinking all is not lost afterall because a day that began so badly finally ended so well.