Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Ringing in the New Year With a 'W'

Game Recap: OKC 95, NYK 80

By Paris Lawson | Broadcast and Digital Reporter | okcthunder.com

THE BIG PICTURE

The Thunder closed out 2021 with a 95-80 win over the Knicks in front of its home crowd. In addition to a stout defensive effort that held New York to just 80 points, the Thunder’s offense poured in a season-high-tying 18 3-pointers in order to take control of the ball game, ring in the New Year with a victory and extend its overall New Year’s Eve record to 11-3. 

MOMENTS FROM THE 48

A Sparkling Shooting Night 

In stark contrast to the Thunder’s shooting night in Phoenix, OKC shot the ball at an efficient 41-percent clip from 3 against the Knicks on New Year’s Eve. Nine different players sank a 3-pointer in the ball game as the Thunder generated a litany of catch-and-shoot looks through paint touches, drive and kick opportunities and extra passes. 

It was Ty Jerome and Mike Muscala who led the way behind the arc as both sharpshooters cashed in three each and bolstered the Thunder’s second unit to a 43-point performance. Jerome backed up his career night in Phoenix with a solid 11-point, five-assist and five-rebound performance while playing deep into the fourth quarter. 

Muscala started the game shooting 1-for-4 through the first three quarters before Thunder acting head coach Mike Wilks called him over and encouraged him to keep shooting. In the fourth frame, Muscala sank two big time 3-pointers to add fuel to OKC’s offensive fire and help extend a 20-7 Thunder run to give the Thunder commanding control of the ball game. 

“Guys played unselfishly, and we try to give our guys confidence that ‘hey, if you’re taking quality shots, let it fly,’” said Wilks. 

“We know that when we’re our best selves, we're attacking, we're downhill, we’re in the paint and we're generating good looks,” said Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. “That’s something we try to do offensively, and we executed that tonight as well.”

Digging in Defensively 

On the other side of the spectrum, OKC held New York to just 19 percent from the 3-point line (8-of-41). For the season, the Knicks average the eighth best 3-point shooting clip in the league, but the Thunder’s defensive shell remained connected putting together multiple defensive efforts on each possession and forcing tough, contested looks from deep throughout the night. 

“That was a huge performance defensively for us,” said Thunder wing Aaron Wiggins. “I thought we did a really good job just leaning on each other and being in the right spots defensively so that we could get out in transition and make plays.”

Shai Back in the Fray

After missing the Thunder’s last game with ankle soreness, Thunder leading scorer Shai Gilgeous-Alexander returned to the lineup on Friday. The fourth-year guard picked up right where he left off with a team-high 23 points to go alongside two steals and a block defensively. 

The Thunder’s 3-point barrage played a major factor in its offense, but it was Gilgeous-Alexander who provided the ground attack. The crafty Canadian went into his deep bag of tricks to find ways to finish around the rim including a wacky left-handed, left-footed scoop layup on the right side of the basket. With the gravity that SGA generated on his attacks to the paint, the point guard helped to create many of OKC’s catch-and-shoot looks from behind the arc.  

“That's something I put emphasis on every night is touching the paint and trying to make something happen,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “We know that when we attack the paint as a group – open 3s are something that we want to generate and that allows us to do so.”

Wilks’ Early Shower

In the locker room postgame, Thunder assistant coach Mike Wilks stood in front of the group and told them how proud he was of their effort. In response, the entire team drenched him in water to celebrate his first victory as acting head coach. 

“I'm extremely grateful,” said Wilks. “It’s not just my win. It's our assistant coaches, our coaches who aren’t here all the time, they poured into me. Talking to them on the way to the game, talking to them before the games, all support from our staff. And then just, our players. They came on and play their heart out.”

The Last Word

“It was amazing. It was I mean, it was like every other game honestly, because like the fans always show out they always show a lot of love and it's an amazing atmosphere to be in. But going into the New Year with a win is huge and definitely makes the game a lot more fun. You're competing, making sure you bring in the New Year the right way, so glad we got the one.”

Aaron Wiggins on playing on New Year’s Eve

What’s Next 

The Thunder’s first game of 2022 will be against the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday. From there, OKC will take on the Minnesota Timberwolves in two consecutive contests – first on the road, then in Oklahoma City.