Oklahoma City’s shooting could not have been more ice cold in the first quarter, but that was long forgotten by the end of the night. The Thunder (4-4) got into the paint seemingly at will in the fourth quarter and pulled away from the New York Knicks (5-4) for a 101-89 win Friday night at Madison Square Garden. The loss by the Knicks snaps a three game win streak. Oklahoma City moved to 4-1 on the road.
New York forged an 11 point lead in the first quarter, but there were red flags abound right away. The Thunder shot just 21% in the opening frame, misfiring on numerous three-point attempts. The Knicks however could not capitalize as they suffered through shooting woes of their own. Another troubling sign was Julius Randle getting in early foul trouble. Without Randle on the floor, the Knicks continuity on offense was not what it has been in recent games. Randle didn’t record a single point in the first half.
On the night, the Knicks shot just 35.8% from the floor and 12-for-20 from the free-throw line. New York was 9-for-27 from behind the three-point arc for 33.3%.
“It’s a hard league. It’s a hard league to get wins in,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You have to come with an edge every night. If you don’t do that, it’ll be difficult for you. In this league, as soon as you start feeling too good about yourself you’re going to get knocked down.”
Despite their struggles, New York led 24-15 after a quarter, but it took a slam by Mitchell Robinson for the Knicks to salvage a 42-42 tie at the half. The Thunder held a 27-18 advantage in the second.
The teams traded the lead back and forth for the first part of the third before Oklahoma City established control. A dunk and two foul shots by Hamidou Diallo gave the Thunder a nine point lead late in the stanza. Austin Rivers connected on a trey at the buzzer to pull the Knicks within 69-63 and another fourth quarter comeback appeared to be in the works.
The Thunder quickly dashed thoughts of a New York rally early in the fourth. A bucket in the paint by Diallo gave Oklahoma City a seven point lead with 7:12 to go. When Diallo picked the pocket of Randle and went in for a slam the Thunder led 84-75. A three-pointer by rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander extended the margin to 13 and the Knicks never challenged the rest of the way.
Thibodeau attempted to use a smaller lineup late in the game, but the move seemed to backfire. Without Robinson or Nerlens Noel on the floor to protect the rim, the Thunder scored countless easy buckets down the stretch.
Outworking opponents to compensate for their lack of star power has been the calling card of the Knicks so far this season. However, the Thunder seemed quicker of foot and more aggressive on this night. New York has been delaing with a rash of injuries. It appears the their lack of depth finally took its toll as the Knicks were a step slow the entire contest.
“So every night you’ve got to bring it. Every day you’ve got to bring it. As I said, I think I’ve been very pleased with the approach, the attitude. And I think when we get down in a hole, I think we had the right intentions. We obviously wanted to get out of it. But you can’t do it individually. You have to remain a team and do it together.”
“I just felt like today, at both ends of the floor, for whatever reason, we just didn’t play for each other,” Randle said. “It happens, you go through that, but the biggest thing is that we nip it in the bud right now and take care of it right now and get back to playing unselfish and playing for each other, sharing the ball, playing for each other on the defensive end, and get that edge about us back.”
Gilgeous-Alexander paced the Thunder with 25 points. Diallo added 23 points and 11 boards. Veteran Al Horford contributed 15 points.
New York will look to start a new streak on Sunday when they host the Denver Nuggets. Tip off is scheduled for 6 p.m.
(AP Photo/Seth Wenig, Pool)