The Knicks face one of the NBA’s most daunting schedules for the remainder of the season, which only increased the importance of Saturday’s visit to Oklahoma City to help maintain their playoff positioning.
RJ Barrett netted a career-high 32 points as coach Tom Thibodeau’s team bounced back from a blowout loss Thursday in Milwaukee with a redemptive 119-97 win at Chesapeake Energy Arena over the undermanned Thunder for their 20th win of the season (20-19). The Knicks’ victory total represents one fewer win than they recorded all of last season, when they finished 21-45 under first David Fizdale and then Mike Miller, now a Thunder assistant coach.
“In Milwaukee, we weren’t really us, we didn’t really feel like we played as hard as we could,” said Barrett, who shot 12-for-21 from the floor, with three 3-pointers. “Today, we had to show who we are and be tough at both ends of the floor.”
All-Star forward Julius Randle had endured his worst game of the season with only seven points in Thursday’s loss to the Bucks, but Saturday he posted his second triple-double of the season with 26 points, 12 rebounds and a career-best 12 assists. That made him the first Knick to post multiple triple-doubles in one season since Mark Jackson in 1988-89.
Point guards Elfrid Payton (hamstring) and Derrick Rose (health and safety protocols) were both sidelined, but rookie Immanuel Quickley added 21 points in a career-high 33 minutes off the bench for the Knicks, whose next two games are on the road against the Eastern Conference front-runners: the Nets on Monday and the 76ers the following night.
“We’re just us. When we defend, share the ball at the other end, we can beat anybody,” Randle said. “We just got back to who we are as a team, our identity. It was encouraging.”
Especially coming off that rough outing Thursday night against the Bucks in their return from the All-Star break. The Knicks yielded their most points of the season (134) and suffering their largest margin of defeat (33) that night, but Thibodeau’s team displayed resiliency after such poor outings throughout the first half.
“I think that’s the challenge of the season,” Thibodeau said. “It’s a long year. You can’t take and carry over what happened in one game to the next. You have to learn from it. When we lose that’s what I want us to do. I want us to learn and move it forward and get ready for the next one.
“Obviously, we are disappointed with the way we played in Milwaukee and we wanted to make good today.”
Al Horford led the Thunder (16-22), who were missing leading scorer Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (quad contusion) and veteran guard George Hill (thumb), among others.
It took just 3:12 of the first quarter for Randle to score seven points, matching his point total from the entire game against the Bucks, but the Thunder shot 70.6 percent from the floor in the quarter for a 31-22 lead.
Frannk Ntilikina started at point guard, but sat down with two fouls barely five minutes into the game. Quickley knocked down three of his first four shots for six points in the first quarter, and the rookie added two early 3-pointers in the second to double that total. Alec Burks contributed nine points (of his 15 points overall) in the first half and Randle upped his total to 14 as the Knicks erased an 11-point deficit for a 56-54 advantage at intermission.
Thibodeau stuck with Quickley over Ntilikina to open the second half, and the Knicks’ defense spurred a 16-8 run to open the third quarter to extend their cushion to 10 before carrying an 88-78 lead into the final quarter.
Barrett netted nine points in the fourth quarter to exceed 30 for the first time in his career. The second-year guard has scored at least 20 in five of his last six games, averaging 22.5 over that stretch.
“Everybody played well today, hitting open shots, open 3s,” Barrett said. “We were all moving the ball. … When we play like that, everybody’s gonna shine.”