Not Enough Juice in the Big Apple – OKC 96, NYK 111
NEW YORK CITY – “Just a step slow, champ,” Russell Westbrook remarked after the Thunder’s 111-89 loss to the New York Knicks on Saturday night. That about summed it up for the road-weary Thunder squad.
After not arriving at the hotel in Manhattan until 3 a.m. after Friday night’s triple-overtime win in snowy Philadelphia, the Thunder started the game with less rest and wearier legs than the Knicks. The team still played with effort and energy, and was in control of the game in the first quarter and then made runs in the second and third quarters to stay in it.
In the fourth quarter, the game slipped away, as the Knicks rebuffed the Thunder twice in the fourth quarter when it cut the deficit to six, and finished the game on an 10-1 run. Throughout the evening the Thunder got hurt at the three-point line on catch-and-shoot jumpers, as the Knicks knocked down 14-of-23 three-point attempts and shot 55.1 percent from the field on the night.
The defense got pulled into the lane on post ups and dribble penetration, and then it was too far and not enough time for players to get back out to give a good contest on those high percentage shots. Part of the problem for the Thunder was an over-eagerness to bring a second defender over to help, which led to the Knicks finding pressure releases on the wing.
“We were coming at times a little bit too early. What happens is when they can throw a pass, just a dart across the floor, there’s no rotation for that,” Head Coach Billy Donovan explained. “Anytime you put two on the ball, there’s always one left three. If that ball can get skipped out at fast rate, it’s really hard to recover and cover the line.”
Playing without Steven Adams due to a concussion he sustained in overtime against the 76ers, the Thunder started Dakari Johnson at center and got minutes from Nick Collison off the bench in addition to their regular rotation players, many of whom saw longer than usual stints to try to balance out the heavy workload the starters got in Philadelphia.
In general, the offense hummed at times and then at others struggled to get going. The Thunder shot well (12-for-27) from behind the three-point line due to some great inside-out ball movement, which started with a catch-and-shoot three-pointer for Carmelo Anthony. Throughout the game, however, the pace, tempo and execution had stretches of stagnation.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) December 17, 2017
“Our entire team, there were moments we were really good and moments that we weren’t good enough,” Donovan noted. “We have to have better ball movement and player movement.”
As the Thunder steps back to look at this emotional three game road trip that lasted just a span of four days, it feels good about coming away with two wins. Though it wished it could have swept the triad of games against Eastern Conference foes, the team has some perspective right now about the length of time it’s going to take for a group of newcomers to all settle in and adjust to roles.
“I don’t think anybody, in any walk of life, can adjust to something in two months. Something that’s brand new,” Anthony explained. “Especially when it comes to having camaraderie as a team, having a bond as a team and learning how to win together as a team. Those are the little things throughout the course of the season that you get better at.”
“It’s still a journey. We’re all trying to evolve with this,” added forward Paul George (18 points, 6-of-14 shooting, 4-for-7 from three). “We’re trying to shape this into the team that we want to be.”
At 14-15 heading into Monday’s 30th game of the regular season, the results for the Thunder haven’t been where the team hoped at this stage, but in the jam-packed Western Conference, Donovan’s club is just 2.5 games out of 4th place. The team is playing with effort every single night and is giving itself a chance each night by laying it on the line. The next thing to come for this group will be the cohesion, and it’s on the way.
“At the end of the day we’re trying to win. We’re trying to play for one another, we’re trying to play hard,” George said. “We’re optimistic and I think we all feel that our better basketball days are ahead of us.
“We can do a better job of making an imprint on what we want our destiny to be,” George concluded.
Melo Appreciates Return to New York
Anthony, raised partially in New York as a youth and a standout at Syracuse, was the last of the Thunder players to be acknowledged in the starting lineup by the Knicks’ public address announcer, and before his turn occurred, the Knicks played a video tribute to the now-Thunder forward on the overhead scoreboard.
In six-and-a-half seasons with the Knicks, Anthony became just one of seven players to score 10,000-plus points with New York. He’s third in franchise history with 762 made three-pointers and 4th best in three-point shooting rate at 36.9 percent. The reception Anthony received from the crowd was meaningful to the 33-year old NBA veteran.
“That was big-time and for me, that goes a long way,” Anthony said. “I’ll always be part of this culture here… It’s deeper than basketball when it comes to me and this city.”
By the Numbers
12 – Points for Carmelo Anthony on the night, in addition to five rebounds in 32 minutes
12-for-27 – Three-point shooting numbers by the Thunder, including four makes by Patrick Patterson on six attempts
21-for-26 – Free throw shooting numbers for the Knicks on the night, with nine more makes and six more attempts than the Thunder
The Last Word
“It’s about the big picture with us. It’s how we’re going to win basketball games. It’s not whether we win or we lose. When we come down to it, how are we going to win basketball games? The roles we all have to accept, what we all have to bring from an individual standpoint for us to be successful.” – forward Carmelo Anthony
Highlights: Thunder at Knicks