Thunder vs. New York Knicks Game Recap – Feb. 15, 2017

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

The smoke flew off of Russell Westbrook’s heels when he realized his fourth quarter free throw was going to miss short and left.

He sprinted to the spot, brought the offensive rebound down, dished to Jerami Grant, relocated to the three-point line then drained the jumper from long range. That four-point possession put the Thunder up by 11 with 5:09 to go, and was the defining play from the team’s 116-105 win over the New York Knicks in the final game before All-Star Weekend.

“Good thing I know when it’s going to be short,” Westbrook chuckled, re-visualizing the play. “Usually I can go back and get it real quick.”

“It’s good for our crowd, it’s good for our team,” Westbrook added. “It hurts the other team obviously. It’s a good play for us.”

Unlike Westbrook, the Thunder spun its wheels to start the game on Wednesday night, nearly getting lapped in the first quarter when it fell behind by as many as 17 points. Carmelo Anthony started the game shooting 7-for-7 from the field and scored 19 first quarter points, but when the Thunder’s second unit rolled into the game, things changed a bit. The defensive intensity, the physicality and the tenacity picked up and it turned the game around for the better.

“We just stuck with it. Our defense picked up and continually got better. It was great to see our guys respond the way they did,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said. “It says a lot of our guys and how hard they were working.”

After shooting just 34.8 percent in the first quarter and giving up a 16-for-22 shooting quarter to the Knicks in the opening frame, the Thunder could have folded, believing it wasn’t their night to knock down tough buckets. Instead, Donovan’s club dug deep, grinded it out and changed the narrative. Towards the end of the second quarter, the Thunder was rewarded, and ripped off a 22-4 run to take the lead.

“For us to continue to compete at a high level, we have to continually focus and concentrate on defense,” Donovan continued. “Sometimes missing shots can take the wind out of your sails, but we have to stay true to our defensive identity.”

That response by this young Thunder team was nearly an immediate reaction to the Thunder’s performance in Washington, a good sign that this team can identify problem areas and correct them in real time. Backing up the second quarter surge, the Thunder jumped out to an 8-2 burst to start the third quarter, and never looked back from there.

“Our energy was constantly really sound, all the way through,” Donovan said. “It was good to see us come off out of the locker room and get a good start.”

Much of the credit goes to Westbrook, whose relentless effort and spirit propelled him to yet another incredible performance – a 38-point, 14-rebound, 12-assist night for his 27th triple-double of the season. Westbrook sealed the win with his play in the fourth quarter, when he scored 11 points and orchestrated just about everything.

It was Westbrook’s backcourt mate, however, that provided the offensive firepower in the middle quarters when the Thunder flipped the momentum. Victor Oladipo scored 19 of his 21 points in the second and third quarters by relentlessly attacking the basket and setting up shop behind the three-point line. On the night Oladipo went 9-for-17 from the field, hit three-of-six threes and dished out a pair of assists.

“If he’s playing at the rim and is taking good open threes, that’s a good combination,” Donovan said. “He was playing downhill. It gave us another playmaker and it gave us opportunities to offensive rebound. His shot distribution tonight was good.”

The Thunder’s wings were equally as vital tonight. Guard Andre Roberson didn’t let Anthony’s hot shooting start faze him, and both he and Jerami Grant forced Anthony into just 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting after that 7-for-7 start.

“(Roberson) stayed with it,” Westbrook said. “Carmelo is one of those guys who when he gets going it’s hard to stop him. Andre never felt discouraged and stayed with it the whole game.”

Meanwhile, Grant provided a little bit of everything for the Thunder tonight, scoring 13 points off the bench while knocking down two three-pointers, grabbing five rebounds, dishing out two assists and blocking two shots. Throughout the night, Grant guarded Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and guard Ron Baker, a wide variety of defensive tasks.

“(Grant) was really versatile tonight and gave us great flexibility to play different lineups out there,” Donovan said.

“You have to know your personnel, you have to know about everybody on their team, regardless of who they are,” Grant noted. “The coaches do a great job of telling me who I have to guard. Obviously it’s a lot of people but they do a good job of telling me who it is and what they can do.”

Highlights: Thunder over Knicks - Feb. 16, 2017

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By the Numbers

19 – Points scored by Victor Oladipo in the second and third quarters combined, when the Thunder broke the game open

25-8 – The Thunder’s advantage in fast break points as it turned 15 Knicks turnovers into 20 points

27 – Triple-doubles this year for Russell Westbrook, after a 38-point, 14-rebound, 12-assist performance, vaulting him into third place all by himself for most triple-doubles in a season

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The Last Word

“Every time we make mistakes, we learn from them. We’re a young team and we’re doing a good job of progressing throughout the year.” – forward Jerami Grant

Threes are falling in Q4. Jerami Grant drills this one. Thunder Up by 15 late.

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