With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Darius Bazley out for Saturday’s contest, the Oklahoma City Thunder fell to the New York Knicks 119-97. The Thunder slid down to the 12th seed in the West, now placed with a 16-22 record on the year. New York jumped over the .500 mark with the victory, grounded just half a game back from the fourth seed at 20-19.
Oklahoma improvised again Saturday, testing out a new starting lineup of Maledon-Dort-Pokusevski-Roby-Horford. Pokusevski kicked the game off with the first dime of the game, flipping a cross-court heave to Lu Dort for a layup. The rookie’s sense of ball movement infected the rest of the starters, using three field goals (all assisted) to mount an early 7-2 lead. The Thunder continued their dominance fighting to a double-digit lead five minutes into the game, but six Knicks tallies cut the advantage. Oklahoma City’s lead wavered near five points for the remaining portions of the period, but a Lu Dort and-1 and a Moses Brown jam hoisted the Thunder up 31-22 through one. Daigneault looked towards his entire roster for the second game in a row piping out nine players in the rotation. New York could not adapt to the Thunder’s constantly changing rotation, being ousted 71% to 44% in the period.
The Knicks gravitated towards iso-play from first-round phenom Immanuel Quickly early, grouping up six quick points two minutes into the quarter. The Thunder stirred their pot responding with extra passes, including a rifled bounce-pass to Kenrich Williams inside. Respective benches inserted themselves in a six-minute grudge match, leaving the battlefield with a one-possession game. Chippy play from the Knicks resulted in their first lead of the game at 49-48 wielding three to go, closing a 15-2 run up eight just minutes later. Oklahoma City returned the favor, rumbling into defenders for straight Dort free throws and a Horford lay-in to cap the half down 56-54.
Al Horford tacked on the first five points in the period to reclaim the lead, but the Knicks put the pressure back onto Oklahoma City turning the tides with a 14-2 run. New York’s strike at gold stayed right around the basket, using a flurry of runners and hard drives to connect on OKC’s Horford-Brown pairing. Mark Daigneault’s decision to toss Isaiah Roby into the rotation for Brown showed promise, putting a close to New York’s paint profusion, yet it opened the door for open triples, going 4-of-8 in the period. The Thunder kept their options open from all three-levels, but their 43% showing (9-of-21) couldn’t match with the Knicks 56% (10-of-18) blasting, ultimately slipping 88-78 entering the fourth.
Justin Jackson seeped into the scorecard out the gate, accounting for the team’s first seven-points off of two made shots and dump-off to Moses Brown — success ran barren after that. New York raked together a 15-4 run in the Thunder’s drought, surfacing a 19 point lead at its apex. Oklahoma City looked towards everyone for options down the stretch, but they couldn’t bridle the deficit.
Oklahoma City may have stayed collected for the opening stages of the game, but the absence of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander took a major took as this contest took its course. The Thunder struggled to take their stride from distance, piercing just 8-of-32 tries (25%) from downtown. On the flip side the team allowed far to many extra possessions for the Knicks, squandering 12 offensive rebounds the opposition, and enabling their unit to hoist up 15 more shots.
Lu Dort became a one-man wrecking crew for the Thunder, splitting time as distributor with Theo Maledon for 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. The sophomore was a no-show from a field goal perspective, connecting on just 2-of-9 tries (22%), but his knack at swaddling the Knicks’ into contact made the difference. Dort shot a career-high 10 attempts from the free throw line, sinking all of his opportunities to stay relevant in the scorecard. Al Horford led the team in scoring producing 16 points (7-of-9 FG) while bringing in 5 rebounds. Horford’s limits were tested in this game, being paired with a variety of front-court members his way — he killed it. The 34-year-old posed a threat down low and from distance, going 2-of-4. Kenrich Williams held starting minutes Saturday, using 28 minutes to round out a 13 point performance on 6-of-10 shooting. Williams has placed himself in a plethora of backdoor situations, and that was no different in this game, finding all but one bucket inside. Ty Jerome vied for serious minutes at one, using his time to generate 11 points (4-of-10 FG), 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. Jerome rifled in passes all day long, slipping through inch-perfect bounce passes for easy looks. The 23-year-old’s three-point touch ramped back from last game, burying 2-of-6 tries off deep attempts at the rim. Moses Brown took his talents mainstream, using a career-high 26 minutes to post a near double-double with 9 points and 9 rebounds. At 21, his involvement down low has been scary. The big man’s eminence in the pick-and-roll flipped himself into a prominent option, taking dump off passes for free slams all day. The main hiccup in play sprouted when Al Horford and Moses Brown stacked alongside eachother late, yet they made things work keep Al outside and Brown right around the cup. That constant presence in the paint gave way for post looks, where he banked in a turnaround hook shot. Isaiah Roby and Justin Jackson closed their shifts with 10 points a piece, having Roby feast on dribble drives with Jackson hovered at the three. Aleksej Pokusevski directed all members in the minutes column, racking 29 by the horn, yet his 4 point, 2-of-11 finish left more on table. The 19-year-old allotted himself into quality takes off the catch and dribble, but the odds were not in his favor, even going a blank 0-of-6 downtown.
The Oklahoma City Thunder (16-22) jump right back into action Sunday hosting the Memphis Grizzlies (17-17) in a game that may factor in late-season implications.