The Thunder were able to down the New York Knicks on Friday, improving their record to an even 4-4, whilst the Knicks dropped to a 5-4 record.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the charge for the Thunder with 25 points (on 9-14 shooting), 10 rebounds, and 7 assists in 34 minutes of run. The combination of his consistent jumper (going 3-3 from deep) and slashing ability kept the Knicks guessing, resulting in many double teams down low, giving other players an opportunity to shine. One of which was 22-year-old guard Hamidou Diallo, who posted 23 points (on 8-13 shooting), 11 rebounds, and 2 assists in 29 minutes. Diallo gave New York problems from the get-go as their lack of guard depth strung undersized guards on him as well as fatigued players such as RJ Barrett (who played 44 minutes.) This clear mismatch was exploited to the fullest jacking up the third most shots on the team, and forcing fouls to the basket (he shot 6/8 from the line.)
For the Knicks, their lineup was razor-thin with only nine players suited up for action. RJ Barrett led their team in scoring with 19, but his inefficiency in his 44 minutes was blatantly obvious shooting 7-21 (1-5 3pt) with 7 boards and 2 assists. Elfrid Payton assumed the role of a shot creator in this game, albeit not a very good one, putting away only 4 of his 16 shots in the game. Julius Randle was the center of attention going into the game, as his averages of 23/12/8 had him as a top power-forward in the league entering the night. Randle was restrained in this one, getting four quick fouls and only appearing in 31 minutes of the game. Despite this his numbers were on par with that of his season, tallying 18 points (8-15 shooting,) 12 rebounds, and 7 assists.
This game kicked off as slow as molasses, with both sides going 1-6 to initiate the game. New York employed an excellent gameplan early, forcing the ball out of SGA’s hands and right into that of Al Horford (who shot 6 times in the quarter.) Horford couldn’t find any touch early and though he scored the Thunder’s first seven points, the Knicks dropped seven-teen by that point, ultimately taking a 24-15 lead through one.
Fatigue set in on the Knicks as the Thunder bench jumped out on an 8-0 run to close the gap to just one with eight to go. The Thunder fought their way back into the game, tying it up at 42 a piece going into half. Al Horford sprinkled in another eight points in the second giving him 15 by half while the Knicks leaned on RJ Barrett, who had 11.
The third quarter gave way for Julius Randle, who scored 11 points on his own in the third through a flurry of baseline jumpers. The Thunder combated Randle with two guys of their own, as Hamidou Diallo and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander combined for 20 points in the quarter on 8-9 shooting. This duo accounted for 20 of the Thunder’s 28 points in the quarter, and was one point shy of the Knicks’ 21 points as a whole. Entering the fourth the Thunder held themselves high with a 69-63 lead.
The first three quarters was an all-out brawl, with 15 lead changes and 5 ties, but the fourth quarter was nothing of the sorts. The Thunder had an early scare in the quarter, when Mike Muscala came down with an injury, but the Knicks were fended off. The Thunder bench was firing at all cylinders in the final period, including an Aleksej Pokusevski pull-up three (he finished with 7 points.) The real dagger took place with just above two minutes to go, when Lu Dort buried a three to put the Thunder up twelve. This shot gave an almost insurmountable lead to OKC, as they held on to win 101-89.
The Thunder won this game through crashing the glass, gathering in 70 rebounds to the Knicks’ 55. Hamidou Diallo also deserves praise, as his often regarded “iso-ball” wore down the Knicks all the way to their breaking point.
Oklahoma City will look to extend their winning streak as they will face off yet again in the state on Sunday, with this duel being against the Brooklyn Nets.