The Oklahoma City Thunder won their sixth game in a row tonight, defeating the New York Knicks 104-92. For the third consecutive time at home, the Thunder manhandled their opponent early on, affording the team to rest its starters for the majority of the 4th quarter. Previously, the Thunder had crushed the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs in OKC, roughing their opponents up early with a barrage of fast-paced offense and staunch defense, and tonight was more of the same.
The Knicks were playing without All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony tonight, but given the way the Thunder ran out to a huge lead midway through the second quarter, it is difficult to say that 'Melo's presence would have mattered. The Thunder had scored 70 points by halftime and the Knicks' defense which had been touted as of late was laid waste.
Without 'Melo, there was to be no small forward showdown tonight, and so the Knicks had to put their full confidence in the play of Amare Stoudemire. Unfortunately for them, Stoudemire's offense is predicated on quality point guard play, and in the wake of tonight's loss, it was clear from the beginning that the Thunder knew this. OKC put tremendous pressure on the inexperienced Knicks guards throughout the whole night. Whether it was Mike Bibby, Iman Shumpert, Tony Douglas, or Landry Fields, the Thunder guards outplayed all of them. By the middle of the 3rd quarter, the Knicks offense had been reduced to Stoudemire drives to the rim and awkward-looking 3-point attempts.
Three successive points:
- The Knicks were competitive very early, but that success came mostly on some streaky outside shooting. By the time the Thunder had caught their breath and began to assert their offensive advantages, the Knicks had begun to cool off. The game's deciding run came at the end of the second quarter when the Thunder pushed their lead from 10 to 23 points. During that time, we saw the Thunder offense in full effect. They were distributing well, shooting the ball with confidence and efficiency, and OKC's top end talent of Kevin Durant , Russell Westbrook, and James Harden overwhelmed what the Knicks had to offer.
- Once the Thunder stretched their lead to 30 points, the game effectively became a challenge to keep the clock moving. What impressed me in the third quarter in this regard was how well the Thunder really eliminated any sort of guard play that the Knicks might have offered. Granted, their guards are not top shelf talent, but as we saw in Houston a few nights ago, any team can heat up at a given time. Yet the Thunder perimeter defense continued to stretch out to the 3-point line and eliminate easy opportunities. Also, they could not get anything going effectively with Stoudemire down low or in the pick and roll set. The Thunder focused defensively on the Knicks' weakest link, and their focus was rewarded.
- We got to see extended play from the Thunder bench in the 4th quarter, and I paid close attention to Reggie Jackson to see how well he would set up his teammates. If you consider the box score, his work isn't going to come off very favorably - zero points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 assist, 5 turnovers. To be sure, that's not a great stat line, but I have to say, I was kind of impressed with Jackson. He wasn't burning up the world or anything, but Jackson showed good presence of mind in working to set up his teammates. I observed a number of instances where he set up guys like Daequan Cook, Nazr Mohammed, or Cole Aldrich well, and they either mishandled the pass or missed the shot. As opposed to his rocky game against the Grizzlies, tonight Jackson often eschewed his own offense to keep the team's opportunities at a maximum.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, 21 points, 8 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 steals
Thunder Down Under: James Harden, 24 points, 4 assists
Thunder Blunder: None
Thunder Plunder: Tyson Chandler, 14 points, 7 rebounds
Next game: Monday, January 16, at the Boston Celtics.