Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP
The Knicks failed to overcome their jetlag against the Thunder
After suffering a tough loss to the Washington Wizards in London, the New York Knicks arrived back in the states to face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Due to the trip to London, the Knicks only played two games last week to account for the jetlag the players will have. Even though the Knicks had a couple of days to recover after the long trip, the players looked very lethargic against an energized Thunder squad.
Whether it’s due to the jetlag or the lack of games played last week, the Knicks looked out of rhythm. On defense, the Knicks wore their matador suits and made sure their red matador cape was clean and well pressed. Throughout the game, the Thunder penetrated the paint at will. Especially in the first quarter against the Knicks starting lineup.
Thunder jumped on the Knicks early and squashed any possible comeback
Ultimately, the horrid performance in the first quarter led to the Knicks 127-109 defeat to the Thunder. Coming into the game, the Thunder won a thriller in Philadelphia due to the heroics of Paul George. Against the Knicks, George continued his heroic ways. He scored 13 points and nailed two of the five Thunder threes in the quarter. At the end of the first, the Knicks trailed 34-16. At one point, the Knicks were down by 22 and were grasping for anything positive to carry over to the second quarter.
Despite being mauled early, the Knicks were able to muster some fight in the latter quarters. Tim Hardaway Jr. woke up in the second quarter and scored eight straight points to cut the Thunder’s lead to sixteen, 49-33. Unfortunately, Russell Westbrook decided to wake up as well. He went on a solo 10-2 run to push the Thunder’s lead to twenty-four, their highest in the game. In the third, the Knicks came out the gates on an 8-2 run to cut the Thunder lead to fourteen, 69-55. George put an end to the Knicks mini-run with a floater, and later, Terrance Ferguson and George made consecutive threes to push the Thunder’s lead back to twenty.
Thunder held a shooting and rebounding clinic
Throughout the game, the Knicks struggled defensively. Despite being the third best team in the West, the Thunder are the worst 3-point shooting team in the league. The Knicks allowed the Thunder to shoot 15-of-29 from deep. Overall, the Thunder shot 54% from the field (45-of-83). In addition to the Thunder’s impressive shooting performance, their big men also dominated the boards. Nerlens Noel, Steven Adams, and Jerami Grant combined to snag 23 boards. Westbrook also got in on the action, grabbing 10 rebounds to nearly complete his triple-double (17 points and 9 assists).
George led all scorers with 31 points. He sliced and diced the Knicks defense at will. The Thunder also had good performances from Dennis Schroder, Abdel Nader, and Grant who scored 17, 16, and 16 points respectively. Despite the Knicks losing heavily to the Thunder, there were some positives David Fizdale could take from the game. Most notably, the performances of some of his young players.
Allonzo Trier showed growth in his game
Allonzo Trier had a positive impact off the bench. He finished with a career-high 8 assists to go along with 16 points and 6 rebounds. Since returning from his hamstring injury, Trier has struggled to regain his shooting rhythm. As a result, Trier drove to the basket more often and drew fouls. He shot 10-of-10 from the free throw line. Also, teams are now more aware of his ability to create his shot off the dribble. The Thunder continuously threw defenders in his direction, and Trier reacted by finding his teammates for easy baskets. Another rookie who came to play was Mitchell Robinson.
Mitchell Robinson continues to be a strong presence in the paint
Robinson had a positive impact on defense despite fouling out in 16 minutes. Before Fizdale inserted Robinson into the game, the Thunder penetrated the paint and finished at the basket with little resistance. Once Robinson stepped foot on the court, the Thunder had issues finishing at the rim. In the game, Robinson sent two shots back to Penn Station and altered numerous shot attempts. In addition to his defensive prowess, Robinson also made an impact on offense. He was a constant lob target off the pick-and-roll, which Trier used to his advantage.
Frank Ntilikina shows flashes of what he could become
The other young player to make an impact was Frank Ntilikina. Since being drafted 8th in the 2017 NBA Draft, Ntilikina has split opinion amongst Knicks fans. Some fans believe he’s a bust while other fans think he needs more time to develop. Based on his performance today, many fans would agree with the latter.
Offensively, Ntilikina was solid. He finished with 9 points (4-of-12) and 5 assists. Statistically, Ntilikina’s shooting wasn’t impressive, but the majority of his missed shots rolled in and out. Also, despite missing shots, Ntilikina remained aggressive on offense, which has been an issue with him all season. On defense, Ntilikina made stops which would leave many to believe he could be a future Defensive Player of the Year.
At the end of the first, Ntilikina forced George into a tough long-range shot in the corner. Also, at the end of the second quarter, he forced Westbrook into a tough shot in the paint. If Ntilikina can gain the confidence to put in these types of performances often, the tide will turn in his favor amongst Knicks fans.
Updated Zion Williamson sweepstakes standings for the Knicks
In the Zion Williamson sweepstakes, the Knicks (10-35) are currently in third place. On Wednesday, James Harden, his famous beard, and the Houston Rockets will arrive at Madison Square Garden to take on the reeling Knicks. If everything goes according to plan, the Knicks will be increasing their chances to retain a possible top-3 draft pick.