The Knicks face one of the NBA 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.
Tom Thibodeau’s team bounced back from a blowout loss Thursday in Milwaukee with a redemptive 119-97 win over the undermanned Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena for their 20th win of the season (20-19). Their 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.
R.J. Barrett netted a career-high 32 points on 12-of-21 shooting for the Knicks, whose next two games are at the two Eastern Conference front-runners: the Nets on Monday and the 76ers the following night.
With point guards Elfrid Payton (hamstring) and Derrick Rose (health and safety protocols) both out, Frank Ntilikina got his second start of the season, but he played only seven minutes (with zero points) after committing two early fouls.
Immanuel Quickley played despite being questionable for the game with a sore groin. The rookie guard finished with 21 points in a career-high 33 minutes off the bench.
All-Star forward Julius Randle endured his worst game of the season with only seven points in Thursday’s loss to the Bucks, but he posted his second triple-double of the season Saturday with 26 points, 12 rebounds and a career-best 12 assists. The last Knicks player to post multiple triple-doubles in one season was Mark Jackson in 1988-89.
Al Horford scored 16 to lead the Thunder (16-22), who were missing leading scorer Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (quad contusion) and veteran guard George Hill (thumb), among others.
The Knicks were coming off a rough outing Thursday night in their return from the All-Star break, yielding their most points of the season (134) and suffering their largest margin of defeat (33) against the Bucks. But Thibodeau’s team had displayed resiliency after such poor outings in the first half of the season.
“That’s what you have to do. The games keep coming, and you have to analyze why you either won or why you lost, and make your corrections and get ready for the next game,” Thibodeau said before Saturday’s game. “Each game counts the same, so that’s the important thing to understand.
“We can’t be looking back, we can’t look ahead. We’ve got to be locked into this team. … You have to be ready to play and that’s a big part of that. Having a good routine established, where you’re building the right habits and how you prepare for each game, that’s an important part of winning.”
Randle needed just 3:12 of the first quarter to match his point total from the game against the Bucks, but the Thunder shot 70.6 percent from the floor in the session for a 31-22 lead.
Ntilikina sat down with two fouls barely five minutes into the game, but Quickley knocked down three of his first four shots for six points in the quarter.
The rookie added two early 3-pointers in the second quarter to double that total, Alec Burks contributed nine (of his 15 points overall) in the 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 fourth.