Thunder Balls

AP Photo/Nate Billings

The Knicks shot themselves in the foot and the Thunder shot them out of any comeback.

Emerging star Jalen Williams scored a career high 36 points and Shai Gilgeous Alexander added 36 points as the Thunder overwhelmed the Knicks with an offensive clinic in a 129-120 win last night.

OKC shot 54% from the field and 44% from three. Even when the Knicks were able to get within one, the Thunder had an answer. The Knicks did not shoot poorly (50% from the field, 41% from three) but one stat was the deciding factor in this one.

Coming into the game the Thunder forced the most turnovers per game in the NBA. The scoresheet read the Knicks committed 18 turnovers, leading to 21 points, while OKC only had four.

I think our turnovers. We had too many turnovers. They dominated us defensively in the paint,” said Julius Randle, who led the Knicks with 25 points while Jalen Brunson had 24. Immanuel Quickley scored 22 points off the bench but, strangely enough, was not on the floor in the final four minutes. (OKC had a 62-50 edge in points in the paint despite a Knicks 54-39 rebounding edge)

With four minutes left and the Knicks down by seven, Coach Tom Thibodeau made a head scratching move when he replaced Quickley, who was playing well, with R.J. Barrett, who was not having a good game. The Thunder went to a big lineup down the stretch but Barrett, who is bigger than Quickley, did not deserve the playing time.

They have length with their wings so you‘re gonna be doing some switching so you’re trying to match up that way,” Thibodeau explained when he was asked about the move.

The Knicks trailed 95-94 early in the fourth quarter when the Thunder went on a 26-14 run to blow the game open. During the run, Williams and sensational rookie Chet Holmgren combined for 24 of the 26 points.

Holmgren’s presence around the rim allows the Thunder to be aggressive on defense so they force turnovers to add to their already potent offensive attack. “They’re a big steal team and he’s [Holmgren] there protecting at the rim,” Thibodeau said. “Overall we made a lot of good plays, we scored 120 points but the turnovers hurt us.”

Knicks trailed 114-106 with a little over three minutes left when Randle got the ball inside but his shot was blocked by Holmgren, who had 22 points, five rebounds and four blocked shots. While Randle was arguing the call, the Thunder came down court and Williams hit a three to make it a ten point game. “I was thinking goaltending,” said Randle. “I thought it hit the backboard first. They didn’t see it that way, gotta move on.” Even with Holmgren on the floor, the Knicks tried to exploit some match up advantages they had when OKC played a small lineup, but the turnovers made the difference. 

In the opening minutes, the Knicks were overwhelmed by the Thunder’s offense. Less than five minutes into the game, the Knicks turned the ball over three times and trailed 16-11. It was 38-25 after one as OKC shot 65% and 6 of 8 from three.

The Knicks tried to trim the deficit in the second quarter but trailed by nine at halftime, 69-60. The turnover margin was 10-1 in favor of OKC. Gilgeous-Alexander had 19 points in 17 minutes to lead the Thunder.

The Knicks made a move in the third quarter and trailed by two. After Gilgeous-Alexander missed a finger roll, Josh Hart went coast to coast for a lay up that tied the game at 81 with 5:28 left in the third quarter.

Randle’s lay up tied the game at 83 before SGA hit a step back jumper and a lay up that gave OKC a four point that they took the fourth quarter. “He [Alexander] does a good job of obviously getting in the paint and scoring the basketball, just making the right reads and plays so he’s a tough cover,” Randle said.

The Knicks shot 30 free throws but had an issue with the officiating and felt they should’ve taken even more foul shots, particularly Jalen Brunson, who did get knocked around some. “I thought he [Brunson] got hit a lot. I think he should’ve been at the line a lot more than he was,” Thibodeau said.

The Knicks fell to 17-13 but there was some good news, this was their 18th road game of the season. After the Knicks play their next two games in Orlando and Indiana, they’ll have played 20 of 33 on the road which means they’ll have 28 of their last 49 at Madison Square Garden.

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