In the second game of its three-game road trip, the Thunder heads to the Big Apple to take on the New York Knicks for the first time this season while riding a wave of momentum from a win over Detroit only two days before. In that game, OKC shot its highest field-goal percentage of the season at 61.3 percent.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the way in scoring with his best shooting performance of the season. He racked up his team-high 27 points on an 80 percent clip (12 of 15). His 10 points in the first quarter were followed up with a 13-point performance in the third. It was this type of consistent scoring production that the Thunder implemented against a Pistons team who overcame a 16-point deficit to regain a lead in the fourth quarter.
The Thunder, who is no stranger to clutch-time games this season, remained poised, forced stops and continued to shoot at an efficient clip. Punctuating the Thunder win was Danilo Gallinari who drained a 3-pointer with 21 seconds remaining to lift the Thunder lead to two possessions and just out of reach of the Pistons.
The Knicks are in the midst of its season long five-game homestand at Madison Square Garden, where they currently sit 2-1 after a loss on Wednesday to Utah 112-104.
The majority of the Knicks offense runs through a dense player rotation in the front court, particularly in the power forward positions. Starters such as Taj Gibson, Julius Randle and Maurice Harkless hold down the backline, while lengthier perimeter players such as R.J. Barrett contributing significant numbers as well from the wing. Randle leads the Knicks in scoring with 19.4 points per game, but it has been the sophomore center off the bench, Mitchell Robinson, who has been stealing the show for New York.
The center is shooting a league-leading 73.0 percent from the field, and over the course of his past nine games, he’s averaging 11.0 points on 75.8 percent shooting to go with 9.7 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. Similarly, forward Bobby Portis adds a level of versatility off the bench for the Knicks with the equal threat to shoot from behind the arc or take advantage of a mismatch in the paint.
This depth in the front court has also played to the Knicks advantage on the defensive end as they allow the fourth fewest points in the paint in the league with 43.7 per game.
Several similarities standout between the Thunder sophomore guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Knicks’ rookie forward R.J. Barrett. Outside of their Canadian connection, they also share a well-rounded skillset on the floor with the ability to impact the game in various ways. While Gilgeous-Alexander leads Oklahoma City in scoring, he also has the ability to rebound at a high level and be extremely disruptive on defense with his size and length particularly in pick and roll coverage.
Similarly, Barrett averages a well-rounded 14.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 30.4 minutes as a rookie. In the Knicks’ win over Houston on Monday, Barrett recorded 27 points, five rebounds and six assists in 19 minutes. Be on the lookout for the battle between these two on the perimeter.
“He’s like a little brother to me, actually he’s my little brother’s age so it’s kind of cool,” Gilgeous-Alexander said of his fellow Toronto native. “It’s special to play especially at this level. I know a lot of guys don’t make it this far and to see him make it this far and to see him make it this far and to see what he’s doing, it’s really special. It will be competitive, but it’ll be fun.”
Offensive Rebounds – New York ranks first in the league in offensive rebounds and offensive rebound percentage with Robinson leading the way with 3.1 per contest. As a collective unit, the Knicks tout six players averaging over one offensive rebound per game. Consequently, they sit atop the league in second-chance points with 15.3 per contest.
Over the past few games, the Thunder focus has been on limiting opponents’ second chance points. After multiple efforts on the defensive end that result in a scramble, the Thunder’s ability to clean the glass regardless of matchup will be critical against a long New York team at every position.
Danilo Gallinari’s game-sealing 3-pointer against Detroit helped him to accomplish the feat of at least three made 3-pointers in seven of his last 10 games. In addition, the 6-foot-10 forward has drained at least one three in 41 consecutive games. As a matchup nightmare for most teams, Gallinari has been a constant source of Thunder offense this season whether by taking advantage of mismatches in the lane or by moving without the ball on the perimeter to earn a wide-open look from three.