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Scenes from SGA and Jalen Williams running circles around the Knicks

Thunder 129, Knicks 120: cold-handed RJ Barrett replaces hot-handed Immanuel Quickley late in the fourth and the game sails away.

Milwaukee Bucks v New York Knicks Photo by Rich Graessle/Getty Images

The Oklahoma City Thunder (19-9) smashed the Minnesota Timberwolves last night on their home court. Optimistic Knicks fans hoped OKC would be fatigued for tonight’s game against New York (17-12) at Paycom Center. Fat chance. The second-youngest team in the league probably closed the clubs at dawn and still showed up ready to rock tonight.

In the first of two matchups this season, the Thunder got 36 points apiece from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and sophomore Jalen Williams (a career-high), RJ Barrett continued to spin his wheels in the mud, and the Knicks couldn’t overcome a 13-point first-quarter hole. Final score, 129-120. Went like this.

First Half

Tonight, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was as fast and offensively proficient as ever. Under his command, the Thunder took flight every time they touched the ball, and their lead reached 15 points midway through the first quarter. It didn’t help that the referees missed some blatant fouls, or that the Knicks coughed up five turnovers in the first period, or that New York was out-scored in the paint, where Oklahoma City scored 14 of their first 25 points.

Julius Randle (7), Donte DiVincenzo (5), and Jalen Brunson (4) combined for 16 first quarter points, while RJ Barrett could only get off one shot (and missed). The Knicks’ second-stringers came on in the latter half of the first quarter, and they didn’t fare any better.

Taj Gibson can do this in his sleep, btw:

The Knicks entered the second quarter down 38-25. Chet Holmgren kept Hartenstein busy, and the 7’1”, 195 lb rookie showed a deft touch around the rim and with the jumper. OKC’s lead reached 17 points, but a 16-4 run—and hitting four-of-four from deep—helped the Knicks chip the deficit to four in the deep end of the second frame.

SGA’s one weakness this season has been his 30% shooting from downtown, but he couldn’t miss if he tried tonight, swishing a triple to cap a 9-0 Thunder run. Oklahoma went up by 13, DiVo drilled back-to-back triples to keep the game from getting any uglier, and New York entered halftime with the Tornadoes up, 69-60.

In the first half, SGA scored 19 points, five assists, four rebounds, and two steals on 7-of-9 shooting in 17 minutes. The box score says he missed two shots, but I can’t believe it. RJ Barrett’s Team Canada teammate spun gold on each end of the court and deserves consideration for MVP this year.

Thunder coach Mark Daigneault played 12 men in the first half, and all but two scored. The Knicks had shot well (52% FG, 47% 3P), but the Thunders were even more flaky and buttery (56%, 50%). OKC took seven more shots than New York, mostly because the ‘Bockers had committed 10 turnovers, or one TO every 2.4 minutes. On the other side, the Thunder had one turnover. Yeesh. Furthermore, the Knicks had lost battles for points on fast breaks (17-10) and in the paint (34-26), despite winning the boards 22-13.

DiVincenzo and Randle each scored 11 first-half points to lead the Knicks. Here’s your first half shot-chart:

Second Half

SGA finally cooled from blazing to just sizzling, thanks to defensive adjustments and a heavier dose of Josh Hart. Sophomore Jalen Williams showed off his skills, probing and penetrating to score in the lane seemingly without effort and stroking the longball with finesse. He and Lu Dort got into foul trouble, though, with both having committed four with ample time left to play.

That 13-point first-quarter hole took awhile to overcome, but midway through Q3, New York struck upon a successful formula: Julius Randle repeatedly attacked the rim, getting fouled on three straight possessions.

When Josh Hart went coast-to-coast for a layup, and the Knicks finally tied the game at 81 with five and a half minutes on the clock. The Thunder crept ahead by four again, but New York finally seemed to have some positive momentum. Over the middle two quarters, the Knicks had outscored the Thunder by nine points and were down 93-89 going into Q4.

New York’s starters played so heavy-footed against the young Thunder, but Immanuel Quickley brought fresh legs and energy off the bench. He scored 22 points in 24 minutes tonight and shot 4-of-5 from downtown to keep his club alive. When RJ Barrett subbed in for him with three and half minutes remaining and the Knicks down 113-106, it smacked of Thibodeau’s folly. Indeed, Barrett promptly bricked a three-attempt. You can read his full statline below and draw your own conclusions.

Meanwhile, Randle believed he was fouled and while he protested the non-call at the wrong end of the court, OKC’s forward Williams swished a momentum-killing three-pointer. How does this keep happening? Can we get a hypnotist to work with Julius on this?

Good luck to whoever plays the Thunder in the postseason. Their Big Three is legitimate. SGA finished with 36 points, eight dimes, seven boards, two steals, and two blocks; Williams finished with a career-high 36 points and three assists; Holmgren finished with 21 points, five boards, and four blocks. Down the stretch, the Knicks bricked, the Thunder swished, and the game was not as close as suggested by the final score, 129-120

Your Starters

  • Jalen Brunson: 24 points, seven assists, four rebounds, two steals, one block, five turnovers, 9-of-19 FG, 1-of-5 3P, 37 minutes. -9.
  • Donte DiVincenzo: 17 points, two boards, 6-of-10 FG, 5-of-9 3P, 20 minutes. -1.
  • RJ Barrett: 14 points, four rebounds, four assists, four turnovers, five fouls, 5-of-14 FG, 1-of-7 3P, 30 minutes. -9.
  • Julius Randle: 25 points, nine boards, two assists, three turnovers, 7-of-15 FG, 1-of-4 3P, 36 minutes. -12.
  • Isaiah Hartenstein: nine boards, four points, two turnovers, one block, 37 minutes.

Up Next

Another bout with a young club, this time in Orlando on Friday. Oh, and then the Pacers on Saturday. What a world. Safe travels, Knickerbockers.

Box Score