His message was simple as he sent his starters back onto the floor: Get three defensive stops in a row.
It turned out two would be good enough.
Kevin Durant had 33 points and 11 rebounds and the Thunder recovered after their big lead slipped away to beat the Hawks 106-99 on Tuesday night.
"We played a physical brand of basketball and we didn't back down. They had us on the ropes," Brooks said. "If the building was a little nervous, the coach on the floor was just as nervous. They had us on the ropes and we battled back."
Durant became the first player since Allen Iverson nine seasons ago to score at least 25 points in 22 consecutive games and came up big down the stretch.
With Atlanta within two, Durant hit jumpers on back-to-back possessions to make it 97-93 and then provided assists on a 3-pointer by Jeff Green and a layup by Russell Westbrook that helped put away the game.
Fans started chanting "MVP!" as Durant made two free throws with 9.6 seconds left to complete a perfect 14-for-14 night at the foul line. Durant closed in on NBA scoring leader Carmelo Anthony but would have needed three more points to pass him. Durant is averaging 29.69 points while Anthony is at 29.74.
"I look at him now and he's playing like an MVP candidate right now in this league," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "I think he's having a hell of a year."
Green added 19 points and Westbrook narrowly missed a triple-double with 12 points, nine assists and nine rebounds as Oklahoma City committed a season-low seven turnovers -- outdoing even the NBA's best team at protecting the ball by three.
Joe Johnson scored 37 points and helped Atlanta rally back to tie it after trailing by 13 late in the third quarter. Josh Smith added 15 points and Al Horford scored 14 for the Hawks, who fell out of first place in the Southeast Division with a loss to the Orlando Magic on Saturday and have now lost three of four.
"We just couldn't get stops," Woodson said. "Defensively right now and rebounding the basketball, we're struggling in those two areas and those are the main two areas that you've got to be clicking to win games, especially on the road."
Oklahoma City outscored Atlanta 20-7 early in the third quarter to build a 75-62 lead when Green followed Westbrook's steal and dunk with a driving layup. Westbrook added another right-handed jam moments later before Johnson answered with back-to-back 3-pointers to bring the Hawks back within seven.
Johnson was at it again in the fourth quarter, teaming with Mike Bibby to help Atlanta close the rest of the deficit with a 15-4 surge. Johnson had a runner in the lane and then patiently dribbled his way in for a layup before drilling a 3-pointer from the left wing. Bibby followed that with his second 3-pointer in the stretch to tie the game at 89 with 5:50 to play.
That's when Brooks called timeout to get his team to regroup and start communicating with each other in transition on defense.
"We knew that they're a good team and they're a team that's fighting for home-court advantage even in the playoffs, and they're going to make runs but we've just got to come back and play our game," said Durant, who hurt his right elbow in the first quarter but never came out. "We can't let them put us back on our heels and kind of get stagnant and not aggressive on the offensive end. We've just got to continue to play.
"I think we did that, along with getting stops," he said.
Brooks put starters Nenad Krstic, Thabo Sefolosha and Green back in the lineup, and Green produced immediately with a foul line jumper that put the Thunder ahead to stay. Westbrook added to the cushion with a pair of free throws, and back-to-back defensive stands gave Oklahoma City just enough cushion to stay in front.
"That's how you win games is getting stops and then worrying about the other end once you get down there," Durant said.
In a first half that featured 13 ties, Durant scored the Thunder's final 10 points -- all from the free-throw line. He made six in a row to give Oklahoma City its largest lead at 47-41 before Atlanta scored the next eight points. Two more free throws from Durant tied it at 49 at halftime.
Smith (24 years, 59 days) became the youngest player to block 1,000 shots in the NBA, breaking a mark held by Benoit Benjamin (25 years, 128 days) when he was with the Los Angeles Clippers. Smith's milestone block came with 8:29 left in the first quarter on a shot by Krstic. ... Thunder center Etan Thomas, who hasn't played since Dec. 4, was not with the team for personal reasons. ... Xzibit, host of MTV's "Pimp My Ride," sat courtside near the Thunder bench. ... Iverson had 22 straight games with at least 25 points in January through March 2001.
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