NEW YORK CITY, New York — From the moment the ball was in play, the Oklahoma City Thunder (28-18) gave the struggling New York Knicks (10-35) no room to breathe. Stifling defense and incredible shooting helped the Thunder hold a 20-point lead throughout most of the game, finishing the game 127-109.
Not even two full days after Paul George’s heroics in Philadelphia, Oklahoma City’s leading All-Star vote getter set the tone early on with a two-way barrage. Shooting 5-for-9, including 2-for-5 from three in the opening quarter helped push the Thunder lead to double-digits.
Of course, the Knicks shooting 7-of-25 from the floor helped. George’s perimeter defense, along with Terrance Ferguson’s play, kept New York from gaining enough momentum to make the game close. With a 34-16 lead entering the second quarter, the Thunder kept their foot on the gas.
Prior to the game, Billy Donovan said that the key was defend the three point line. While that may come as a surprise considering the Knicks came into the game ranked 20th in the NBA in three-point makes per game, Donovan has been consistent in that area of defense.
“We cannot allow teams and players to find rhythm against us,” Donovan said after last week’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, a game that saw the Thunder allow 18-made threes. “That is the difference for us.”
Today, Oklahoma City held New York to 7-of-23 shooting from beyond the arc. Tim Hardaway, Jr, who finished with 23 points on 7-of-14 shooting, was never able to put together a consistent stretch for his shooting to matter. Of those seven made threes for the Knicks, Hardaway, Jr. hit four of them, with his fourth coming midway through the third quarter.
“We shot the ball really well from behind the line all game,” Donovan said afterwards. “We got fortunate on a couple plays in the first quarter where some of their shots didn’t go in, but for the most part we defended pretty well.”
George finished with 31 points and answered every mini-run the Knicks would make, specifically in the third quarter. He, with Ferguson’s three-made threes, blew the door open into a lead New York could never overcome. The closest the Knicks got was by cutting the deficit to 14.
Speaking of Ferguson, the Thunder’s development of the second year wing has become the focus of the team. Since January began, Ferguson is shooting 53 percent on six attempts per game. He only scored nine points on those three threes today but with his ability to defend and a growing confidence in his shot, the Thunder offense has looked noticeably better.
“I think Terrance has always shot the ball very aggressively,” Donovan said. “He just needed some time. I think his confidence is coming from the way he is playing defense.”
What was more impressive about the Thunder’s 20-plus point lead in the first half was that Russell Westbrook didn’t score his first point until hitting his second free throw midway through the second quarter.
From there, Westbrook ended the second half of the second quarter on a tear. He finished with 11 points heading into the third quarter. Westbrook would ultimately finish one assist shy of a triple-double — 17 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Donovan and Westbrook probably enjoyed the fact that Westbrook didn’t play much in the fourth quarter.
“Of course, rest doesn’t hurt,” Donovan said about sitting his starters early in the final quarter. “We’ve got a big turnaround game tomorrow with Portland so it was good to get the guys rest.”
With the win, Oklahoma City now has a Western Conference leading 14 road wins.