By A. Suave Francisco
A late tipoff in Oklahoma City may have thrown the Thunder off course to start their game against the struggling organization called the New York Knicks on Wednesday night. However, a complete second and third quarter by OKC helped solidify a 116-105 win, improving their overall record to (32-35) on the season.
New York's Carmelo Anthony started carving away at the Thunder's defense in the first quarter, by shooting 7-of-8 from the field for 19 points, pushing his team to a 39-27 lead on a scorching 72.7 percent shooting. On the contrary, OKC couldn't manage to get anything going offensively, shooting just 34.8 percent from the floor. To make things worse, Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hermangomez were completely bottling up the paint, denying any and everything Steven Adams and Domantas Sabonis tried to orchestrate.
Andre Roberson's defense wasn't bad in the first quarter, although Anthony scored 19 points. He did everything a good defensive player would do, Anthony just connected on his shots. In the second quarter, Roberson continued to play sound defense and it finally started to wear on 32-year-old Anthony as he went 0-for-3, and scoring only one point. Offensively, the telling story was Westbrook and Victor Oladipo who combined for 20 points in the quarter, while improving OKC's shooting percentage to 44.7 at the halfway mark.
The momentum the Thunder played with in the second quarter transitioned over into the third where they continued their dominance, outscoring the Knicks 26-20 and extending their lead to 88-80 by the start of the fourth quarter. Westbrook also recorded his 27th triple-double of the season at the seven-minute mark of the third quarter with 21 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds.
Oklahoma City in previous seasons would give up games in the fourth quarter and one may say it's because the players didn't know their role, especially in those late-game situations. Sometimes Westbrook would try and push the envelope a little too far and take ill-advised shots that didn't go in the majority of the time, or Kevin Durant would go in isolation mode and hope for the best. Now, Russell has proved he's an improved player down the stretch. Against the Knicks, he scored 11 points in the final quarter, effectively diminishing the Knicks' comeback aspirations.
This was said to be a must-win for the Thunder, with it being their last game before the All-Star break. They have an easier stretch of their season coming up after an 8-day break where they'll play four out of five games against teams with a losing record. They'll also maintain the seventh spot in the Western Conference, just a game and a half behind the Memphis Grizzlies for sixth.