OKLAHOMA CITY – Guess the Knicks would not be better off without Julius Randle.
The Knicks ‘three-game winning streak was snatched when fan favorite Obi Toppin did not prove to be the Knicks’ lord and savior entering a new year as the rebuilding of Oklahoma City took them out, 95-80, in Paycom Center Friday night.
Toppin had a rudimentary night in his first NBA start, replacing the COVID-hit Randle. He was held to five points in 27 minutes, going 1-on-4 and missing three free throws as the Knicks fell to 17-19 into 2022.
Point guard Miles McBride (3-to-9) also started his first NBA start when Kemba Walker (sore knee) was a late scratch and it didn’t help anything.
The Knicks could not accommodate OKC’s lone prominent, explosive former Kentucky combo guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who roared for 23 points.
The Knicks shot only 37 percent. Evan Fournier had a bad night, scoring only three points (1-to-8) and not playing in the fourth quarter.
Fournier also had a small exchange with head coach Tom Thibodeau.
After Fournier’s delivery was stolen by Gilgeous-Alexander for an OKC fast-break brace, Thibodeau barked “What are you doing?”
Fournier shouted back, “He was open.”
RJ Barrett, a powerhouse in the basket all night, was the lone Knick who entered the new year in style, scoring 24 points.
After the Knicks ran to three late in the third quarter, OKC ran from seven straight points. It started when OKC’s Alexei Pokusevski drained a 3-pointer after guard Ty Jerome snatched an offensive rebound to beat the lead to six. Thibodeau swung his arm in anger and shouted “Come on!”
OKC has a bunch of COVID-19 players out, including head coach Mark Daigneault, but the Knicks were overall more worn out now that Randle is out. Not having their top two point guards in Walker and Derrick Rose (ankle surgery) did not help.
And now they have a new concern for 2022, when Walker did something in the warm-up to aggravate his arthritic left knee, and the team held him out. It’s unclear if the Knicks were cautious because he had just played a back-to-back set in Detroit and Minneapolis, or if it’s a serious setback.
Walker did not show up on the bench in streetwear.
The salt to the wound came with 4:22 left in the third when Lu Dort, after missing his first nine shots, drained a corner 3 that gave the Thunder a 70-56 lead. Thibodeau signaled for timeout – his second stop of the quarter – as Dort 3 hit a 21-7 start in the second half.