Resilient Thunder Shakes Off Slow Start
to Defeat Knicks
Game Recap: Thunder 101, Knicks 89
The Thunder bounced back after a slow start offensively and imposed a smothering defense to pick up its second consecutive win. With the help of a standout performance from Hamidou Diallo in his hometown, the Thunder emerged victors in the world’s most famous arena.
It was a frigid start offensively for both teams. In the first four minutes, the Knicks were shooting 33 percent from the field (3-of-9) while the Thunder only sank one of its first eight buckets and was 0-of-4 from behind the arc. Early on, it was big man Al Horford who kept the Thunder alive scoring the Thunder's first seven points of the game.
Despite the slow start, the Thunder’s second unit once again provided a much needed and timely boost of energy spearheaded by the efforts of third-year guard Hamidou Diallo. The Thunder’s high-flyer scored on a pair of back-to-back drives to the lane injecting the perfect amount of verve into the Thunder’s offense. After trailing by 14 points, the reserves strung together consecutive stops on the defensive end and translated them into buckets on offense to bring the game to one point. By the end of the night, the Thunder’s reserves would outscore the Knicks’ bench 48-24.
“We obviously got off to a slow start and [the second unit] came in again to change the game for us. They really amped it up and then we carried that through the rest of the game,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “Hami was really good. I'm really happy for him. He's home and he really played well tonight.”
Diallo finished the night registering a season-high 23 points to go alongside 11 rebounds, also a season-high. The Queens native seemed to be in his element has he pushed the tempo in transition off of a defensive board and showcased his explosiveness and speed to get to the rim.
“It’s great to go out there and compete and just leave it on the floor,” said Diallo. “Coach has been preaching us to have a 0-0 mentality every game. Records don’t matter, just go out there compete and just try to leave it on the floor and I think that's what we did today.”
“Hami loves the Garden,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “That’s when Hami is in his habitat is when he plays back home and it's a great feeling.”
Horford led the way at halftime with 15 points on 3-of-4 from deep, but the game was tied at 42.
After going scoreless in the first half, Julius Randle scored nine quick points out of the gate for New York. It was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for the Thunder who answered each of Randle’s buckets as he cashed in 12 points in the third on the way to a game-high 25 points and 10 rebounds on 3-of-3 from the 3-point line. The third-year guard also flirted with a triple-double as he dished out seven assists.
It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Thunder registered a lead larger than nine points thanks to a smothering, five-man defensive performance. The squad strung together three-straight possessions with a defensive stop and translating out on the break the other way. Diallo capped off the run with a steal at half court from Randle and finished with an easy dunk on the other end. Those empty possessions for New York at such a critical juncture in the game put all of the momentum on the Thunder’s side en route to a 12-point victory.
“I thought we did a great job. Not only with the game plan but carrying over some of the things we learned from the New Orleans game,” said Daigneault. “We really came in with a high level of focus from the jump so I was pleased with the way we did that.”
“I felt like we did a pretty good job,” said Dort following the game. “We did a good job screening and rebounding. Overall, it was good.”
Play of the Game
SGA knew his teammate was thriving in his hometown and wanted to help cap off a great performance with an exclamation point. So, after breaking free from the token full-court press that the Knicks deployed with less than a minute on the clock, Gilgeous-Alexander burst across the half-court line and noticed his former college teammate on the other side of the rim.
SGA floated the ball in a high arc above the rim where only Diallo could elevate and jam it through the cylinder. In a fitting final bucket of the Thunder’s night, the team’s two leading scorers and double-double recorders connected on a dazzling play to put a bow on a well-earned victory.
“I pushed the pace a little bit, saw him on the backside and just tried to throw it as high as I could with it still being in his reach. So he could get up and go get it, and he did.”
“It was great. I’ve seen a lot of people joke around like I don't get above the rim anymore,” said the former NBA Slam Dunk Champion with a playful smile. “I mean it's great to just end it like that, just showed that I'm still capable; I just choose not to sometimes. It was great.”
Stat of the Night62
The Thunder out rebounded the Knicks 62-48 with both Diallo and Gilgeous-Alexander registering double-digit boards. Against a New York team who touts size in the paint with 7-foot Mitchell Robinson and 6-foot-9 Julius Randle, the Thunder proved its toughness and physicality to win the rebounding battle.
“One of the things we focus on every game is rebounding,” said Gilgeous-Alexander who snatched down 10 boards. “Not giving teams second chance points or giving them more opportunities at the basket. That's an easy way to not get the outcome you want is giving them more shots at the goal. That’s just one of the things on a long list of things we like to focus on before the game and we got it done tonight.”
Quotes of the Night
“It really means that we can count on a lot of guys to raise the level or take the best way to be competitive – first unit and second unit. I think that’s one thing that shows that and we’ve got to keep going.”
“We just stick with it no matter what it is. Get up early, get down early, Coach always says it’s a 48-minute game plain and simple. Knowing that if we trust the process, bring energy defensively and play the right way offensively things will work out.” –Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
After four games on the road, the Thunder will wrap up its East Coast road trip with a tilt against Brooklyn on Sunday. The Thunder will then return to Chesapeake Energy Arena to open up a four-game home stand beginning with the Spurs on Tuesday.