The effort was pitiful. The defense was egregious. The score was embarrassing.
James Dolan couldn’t have been happy from his baseline seat witnessing Sunday’s atrocity, a 145-135 defeat to the Thunder that represented the most points allowed by the Knicks in 16 years (and that was a triple-OT game).
The owner stuck around longer than usual, too, with personal security still guarding Dolan’s suite 40 minutes after the final buzzer. It was the type of defeat that leads to changes.
“Disappointed,” was the best emotion Tom Thibodeau could muster.
The Knicks (6-7) couldn’t excuse the performance to a top-flight opponent. The Thunder (6-7), the youngest team in the NBA with an average age just a hair over 23, is still rebuilding and projected for the draft lottery.
But the youngsters dominated behind their leader, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who the Knicks passed in the 2018 draft to draft Kevin Knox, dropped 37 points and eight assists for the Thunder. Once again, Leon Rose’s middling roster didn’t have a star to counter the opposition’s.
“They got confidence from the start, and it’s kind of hard to turn someone’s water off when they’re just going like that,” Jalen Brunson said.
Defense, the trademark of the Thibodeau team that earned the fourth seed just two seasons ago, had already been inching away from these Knicks. On Sunday, it went into full abandonment.
The players and staff left the Garden court to a round of boos.
“I think a big part of that was the readiness to play, which was absent, obviously,” Evan Fournier said. “The execution was poor. The readiness was poor. And then I think the confidence, it adds up. We never really found a rhythm defensively. We never quite figured them out. And so, it was a long night defensively.”
OKC shot a staggering 63%, including 55% from beyond the arc.
“We scored 135 points, we should be walking out with a win,” Thibodeau said. “But if we don’t play defense we’re not going to. That’s one thing that we have to be able to count on.”
The first fallout was an extended benching of RJ Barrett, who struggled Sunday and logged only two minutes of the second half. Barrett finished with just 19 minutes and four points on 2-of-10 shooting.
Thibodeau’s fourth-quarter lineup, which made a too-little, too-late run, was also missing Brunson. The Knicks never got closer than eight in the second half.
“Once we cut it to 8, 10, I wanted to see where it would go,” Thibodeau said.
Thibodeau had the Knicks arrive early for the noon game — their earliest tipoff thus far — to hold a walkthrough on the MSG court. Afternoon weekend contests in Manhattan are famous for flat performances, commonly labeled the hangover effect.
At first, Thibodeau’s maneuver appeared to help. The Knicks set a franchise record for points in the opening quarter with 48, which gave them a 12-point edge heading into the second.
Then things fell apart. The Knicks were shredded from long distance by OKC, which dropped 43 points in the second quarter and led at the break, 79-73. The bleeding never stopped. And it may continue.
The next five games are on the road against the Jazz, Nuggets, Warriors, Suns and Thunder.