The weight of expectations has slowed down the rampaging New York Knicks.
Following a three-game win streak and a surprising 5-3 start, the Knicks enjoyed the national spotlight. They entered Friday night’s game against the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder as odds-on favorites for the first time this season.
The result was a disastrous 101-89 loss, a growing pain reminder, as the Thunder caught the Knicks’ defense napping after shaking off a sluggish start.
The Knicks led at the start, but there were ominous signs early on that it would be a long night.
Julius Randle, who is playing like an All-NBA player to start the season, ran into early foul trouble. He was held scoreless in the opening half.
Without Randle, whom Thibodeau referred to as their engine, their offense became stagnant.
The Knicks had only 19 assists and shot just 36 percent from the field.
The Thunder exploited the the Knicks’ woes and took the lead for good in the third quarter.
The Knicks, though, teased another fourth-quarter comeback when Austin Rivers beat the buzzer with a triple to cut the Thunder’s lead to six after 36 minutes of action.
But there were no Rivers heroics nor Knicks comeback this time. Only a hard slap in the face.
“Once we gave up the lead and we got behind, I think we tried to get out of it individually. I think the intentions were good, but we just went about it the wrong way,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said postgame.
Thibodeau pulled out Mitchell Robinson (6 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 3 blocks) in the fourth quarter, who he said was not feeling great. His plan to go small ball and generate some offense backfired as the Thunder repeatedly attacked the paint.
After a horrible 21 percent start from the field, the Thunder took command by shooting 63 percent in the next three quarters.
As the game wore on, the Knicks’ defense continued to loosen up with their every miss.
The pair of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (25 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists) and Hamidou Diallo (23 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists) led the Thunder. They were the better ex-Kentucky players on Friday night at The Garden.
The Knicks’ own Kentucky alumni played sub-par with Randle limited to just 18 points while Kevin Knox (3-9), rookie Immanuel Quickley (1-9), and the returning Nerlens Noel (0-1) struggled to find their rhythm all night. Even RJ Barrett’s shooting struggles from the perimeter continued. He had 19 points on 21 shots.
The Knicks appeared poise to coast to an easy win at home when they built an early 17-7 lead. But the Thunder quickly erased their lead. And the Knicks played with fire.
“In this league, as soon as you start feeling too good about yourself, you’re going to get knocked down,” Thibodeau said.
The Friday night beatdown at The Garden was a cautionary tale for these Knicks after a fairy tale start to this season.
There will be more challenges ahead, far more formidable than this one, but Thibodeau hopes his young team will continue to grow and treat this as a wake-up call.
“From top to bottom, we didn’t get it done. We’re capable of doing much better than we did,” Thibodeau said.
We’ll soon find out when the Knicks play three games in the next four days, beginning Sunday against the Denver Nuggets, last season’s Western Conference finalist.
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