Thunder vs. New York Knicks Game Recap – Oct. 19, 2017

In the leadup to the 2017-18 season opener, there was a refrain from Thunder players – how they start against the New York Knicks should set a tone for the entire year.

On the Thunder’s very first possession of its 105-84 victory over the Knicks, the team swarmed around the floor, closing out and scrambling as if their defense was choreographed. The result was an airballed heave at the end of the shot clock for New York.

On the ensuing possession, the Thunder’s All-Star trio got in on the action, with Russell Westbrook slicing into the paint to rebound a Paul George missed three then immediately kicking it out to Carmelo Anthony. The former Knick let it fly and splashed the first three-pointer, and points of the game.

“I was surprised that the first shot was that wide open, but I was happy it went in,” Anthony said. “I got that first shot out of the way and was just able to focus on the game after that.”

“I knew it was going in. I didn’t even look at it,” Westbrook smiled. “To get the crowd going and get him involved early on was great.”

When it was all said and done, Anthony finished with 22 points on 8-for-20 shooting. After the first triple he started slow from the field, but Anthony found his rhythm with three mid-range jumpers from two of his favorite spots on the floor: the elbows and the baseline.

Anthony’s scoring was facilitated by Westbrook, who logged 21 points on an efficient 7-for-12 shooting, a game-high 16 assists and 10 rebounds for his 80th career triple-double. Even though the team is clearly going to be working on the chemistry for some time, it was a masterful performance by the NBA’s reigning MVP, because of his efforts to get everyone involved.

“There’s nobody that can stay in front of Russ,” George said. “He’s always going to attract two (defenders) and he’s always going to have the defense collapse.”

George was one of those players Westbrook found on catch-and-shoot attempts and on kick-aheads in transition. The do-it-all forward finished with a game-high 28 points on 9-for-23 shooting and filled up the stat sheet per usual. Alongside him in that category was Steven Adams, who snagged five of the Thunder’s 14 steals on the night, anchoring a defensive effort that was absolutely suffocating and entirely disruptive.

“The biggest thing for us was just our defense. I’ve been really pleased with that since the start of training camp,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said. “They’ve done a really good job defensively, schematically, trying to do the things we’re asking them to do.”

“(It was) using our length and our size. For us to win, we have to defend at a high level,” Westbrook said.

For the night, the Thunder forced 26 turnovers and turned them into an outrageous 38 points, almost constantly getting deflections and breaking up the intended Knicks play. The Thunder’s length, athleticism and relentlessness was a factor all game long, and it produced the lowest points the Thunder have allowed in a season opener in the Oklahoma City era. Donovan hopes that stingy defense will be his team’s identity all year.

“We got our hands on a lot of those passes, deflecting, and then we turned our defense into offense. That’s what really put them away,” George said.

PG and his buzzer-beating .

A post shared by Oklahoma City Thunder (@okcthunder) on Oct 19, 2017 at 6:26pm PDT

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Turning Point

It was a herky-jerky start for Donovan’s club, but he returned with a lineup of Westbrook, George, Anthony, Adams and Alex Abrines for the final 6:20 of the first half. At that point in time the Thunder trailed 36-33. By the time the half came to a close, it was a 53-42 lead for Oklahoma City.

The decisive run came over the final 2:43 of the second quarter, when Steven Adams provided a spark by slamming home a put-back dunk off a Westbrook miss. Anthony scored on a tough and-one play in transition on the ensuing possession off a pass from Westbrook, then the Thunder point guard found George for a cutting layup at the rim. After two Westbrook free throws, George deflected an inbounds pass, received a pass over the top from Andre Roberson and just barely dunked the ball through the net as the halftime buzzer sounded.

“He poked the ball away from (Kristaps) Porzingis, it fell in my lap and I saw he had two or three seconds left. He’s quick enough to get down on the other end and finish the play,” Roberson explained. “That’s what we predicate ourselves on, our defense leading to our offense.”

That sequence sent the Thunder crowd into a frenzy and paved the way for an even-keeled second half to close out the victory.

Thunder Highlights:

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By the Numbers

26 – Assists for the Thunder on 39 made field goal attempts, meaning the team assisted on 66.7 percent of its made shots

35-8 – Fast break points advantage for the Thunder, where it shot 14-for-17 while holding New York to just four transition field goal attempts

38 – Points in the paint allowed by the Thunder, on just 19-for-39 shooting for the Knicks, continuing its trend of strong rim protection

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The Last Word

“I thought the first preseason game here was nuts. I thought that’s what Loud City was. But obviously they can get louder. I’m looking forward to the next 40 of these and when we get into Playoffs.” – forward Paul George on the atmosphere on opening night at Chesapeake Energy Arena

Russ: 80th career triple-double. PG:28p. Loud City: 300th straight sellout. @budweiserusa Photo of the Night.

A post shared by Oklahoma City Thunder (@okcthunder) on Oct 19, 2017 at 7:47pm PDT

9th straight W at home on opening night. #ThunderUp

A post shared by Oklahoma City Thunder (@okcthunder) on Oct 19, 2017 at 7:38pm PDT

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