OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)Shai Gilgeous-Alexander returned from a one-game absence to score 23 points, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat a depleted New York Knicks team 95-80 on Friday night.
Gilgeous-Alexander, the reigning NBA Western Conference Player of the Week, sat out Wednesday’s loss at Phoenix with ankle soreness, but played a team-high 34 minutes. Aaron Wiggins scored 13 and Ty Jerome had 11 points.
The Thunder came into the game giving up 108.2 points per game. The Knicks’ total was the lowest for an Oklahoma City opponent all season.
Gilgeous-Alexander credited the team’s mindset in posting their best defensive performance of the year.
”Every night we try to make the paint difficult for teams,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. ”We know that’s where the best shots are generated. I think that was the main focus tonight. And we executed it.”
RJ Barrett had 26 points and Immanuel Quickley scored 11 for the Knicks, who were without Julius Randle and Kemba Walker.
It was a special night for Thunder assistant coach Mike Wilks, who took over this week for coach Mark Daigneault, who is in the NBA’s health and safety protocol. Wilks got his first win and after the game, Thunder players showered him with water and awarded him with the game ball.
Wilks said it was certainly memorable to get the victory on New Year’s Eve.
”Everybody in the organization contributed to this,” Wilks said. ”Our coaching staff did a phenomenal job. And the players came out and played the right way. So glad we came out on top tonight.”
The Knicks led by as many as nine in the first quarter behind quick starts from Mitchell Robinson and Evan Fournier. But Jerome made a 3-pointer in the final minute of the first quarter to give Oklahoma City its first lead, 23-20, and never trailed the rest of the way.
Jerome opened the second quarter with another 3-point basket, then fed Theo Maledon for another 3 to complete a 9-0 run.
Oklahoma City went up by 10 in the second quarter, but Barrett completed a drive just before halftime to make it 51-49 in favor of the Thunder.
New York scored six straight to open the fourth quarter to cut the Thunder lead to 74-71, but Oklahoma City responded with a 7-0 run to push the lead back to double digits.
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau lamented his team’s poor rebounding and 54% shooting at the foul line. The loss snapped a three-game win streak for New York
”If you defend and you rebound – the thing is giving up the second shots,” Thibodeau said. ”We should’ve had more, ourselves, second shots and we didn’t. And we didn’t make free throws. That was problematic, also.”
Thunder: Oklahoma City was without starters Josh Giddey and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl for the third straight game, along with reserves Darius Bazley and Tre Mann. Assistant Mike Wilks also coached the Thunder for the second straight game, with coach Mark Daigneault in the health and safety protocol. Wilks got his first win. … After seeing his 46-game streak of games with a made 3-pointer snapped on Wednesday, Lu Dort connected on one late in the third quarter – his first basket of the game after missing his first nine shots.
Knicks: Lost in Oklahoma City for the first time since 2018. . Shot just 8 of 41 (19.5%) from the 3-point line, but did a get a rare four-point play from Alec Burks when he was fouled on a made 3 from the top of the key in the first half and converted the free throw that followed.
Knicks: Visit Toronto on Sunday.
Thunder: Host Dallas on Sunday.
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