Thunder Road Trip Continues in the Big Apple
Date: Friday, Jan. 8, 2021
Tip-Off Time: 6:30 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
The Thunder enters into the final two of its five-game road trip with a pair of matchups in the Big Apple. First up is a tilt against the Knicks before wrapping up with a game against the Nets on Sunday.
In its last game on Wednesday, OKC bounced back from a 28-point loss against Miami and defeated New Orleans in a rematch of a game that took place only a week prior on New Year’s Eve.
A contagious defensive effort by the Thunder’s second unit sparked the tone and activity for the rest of the game. Ultimately, Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault’s squad would score 24 points off of the Pelicans’ 15 turnovers along with 27 points in transition.
Several Thunder players stepped up offensively when the team needed it most. Forward Darius Bazley erupted for 11 consecutive points to start the second half on the way to his third double-double of the season with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Mike Muscala poured in another nine consecutive points to keep the Thunder alive in the fourth quarter en route to an 18-point performance on a career-high tying 5 made 3-pointers.
The Thunder’s leading scorer was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with 21 points. The most consequential of those points came in the final minute and a half where he scored six points and went 4-for-4 from the free throw line to help the Thunder regain a lead. His well-rounded 21 point, five-rebound, nine-assist and career-high five-steal evening made him the only player in the league this season to accomplish such a feat.
After their 18-point comeback win over the Jazz on Wednesday, the Knicks are off to a 5-3 start which marks the best outset to the season since its 2012-13 season. Under new head coach Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks have become a formidable defensive foe.
Offensively, New York is led by 6-foot-9 forward Julius Randle who averages a double-double with 23.1 points, 12.0 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game. In the Knicks game against the Jazz, Randle scored 30 points while reeling in 16 rebounds. It was the Knicks’ newest addition in Austin Rivers, however, who put up 14-straight points in the fourth quarter to help the Knicks get out ahead of the Jazz for the comeback win. Rivers would finish with 23 points on 5-of-7 shooting from deep.
Rounding out the Knicks’ rotation is point guard Eflrid Payton who, over the last six games has averaged 18.3 points on 52.7 percent shooting from the field. Anchoring the Knicks in the paint is 7-foot-center Mitchell Robinson who has been a sturdy defensive presence for New York at the rim while also chipping in 8.6 points per game.
There will be a battle of second-year players on Friday as forward R.J. Barrett and OKC’s Darius Bazley go head-to-head. Among all NBA sophomores, both Barrett and Bazley sit in the top 10 in points and rebounds per game as Bazley averages 12.0 and 8.5 while Barrett adds 17.1 and 7.3.
The defensive side of the ball has been a focal point for Bazley so far this season with matchup assignments like Miami’s Jimmy Butler and New Orleans’ Zion Williamson. Among 2nd year players, Bazley leads the league in blocks per game (1.1).
“Defensively, he wants those challenges and sees himself as that kind of player, and he deserves those challenges,” said Daigneault. “He's proven that he can be an effective defender and now he's going to become a consistently effective defender and has certainly shown flashes of that.”
Thunder Honing Balanced Attack@NickGallo22 reports on how OKC is taking the floor with a forward-looking style of play.— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 7, 2021
Stat to Watch
3-point Percentage – New York’s defense leads the NBA in opponent 3-point percentage with an average of 29.8 percent. The Thunder on the other hand is fresh off of a historic shooting night where eight Thunder players made at least one 3-pointer and the team made 19-of-46 attempts. This was a result of playing with pace and generating high-quality looks from behind the arc when the Pelicans looked to prioritize paint protection. Against the Knicks, look for the Thunder to play with the same formula of playing with pace, moving the ball and generating the highest quality look on the floor.
Thunder guard Hamidou Diallo can be credited for playing a key role in the energy of the Thunder’s second unit. The fourth-year guard has averaged 9.2 points on 54.3 percent shooting from the field over the Thunder’s last five games with a large portion of those points generated off of fast break opportunities created by defensive stops or opponent turnovers.