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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Clemente Almanza

Player grades: Thunder defensive slippage continues in 129-119 loss to Knicks

When asked about the Oklahoma City Thunder giving up more than 120 points in each of the last five games, head coach Mark Daigneault quickly brought up how they’ve given up at least 112 points in the last eight games.

During that stretch, the Thunder are 28th in defensive rating, giving up 116.7 points per 100 possessions.

The suddenly strong Thunder offense has helped masked the defensive issues. During that same stretch, the Thunder are sixth in offensive rating at 115.4 points scored per 100 possessions.

“Our offense over that time has improved,” said Daigneault. “We’re playing a little faster, especially on made baskets, but I think (we have) to loosen this up a little bit and we’ve got to find a balance there.”

Against the New York Knicks on Monday night, they gave up 129 points on 51-of-97 (52.6%) shooting in a 10-point loss. The Knicks led for most of the way with a lead as large as 17 points.

Whenever the Thunder threatened the Knicks lead, they would answer back with a run of their own and keep a healthy distance on the scoreboard throughout the four quarters.

The Knicks were led by Jalen Brunson, who scored 34 points on 14-of-20 shooting. Julius Randle also recorded a 25-point and 11-rebound double-double. RJ Barrett finished with 25 points as well.

“(Brunson, Randle and Barrett) are the top-line guys on the scouting report and they all went for 25-plus tonight,” said Daigneault.

The main message from Daigneault and players after the game was the team’s defense needs to improve, and it needs to return to how it played earlier this season.

Continuously giving up 120-plus points is not a recipe for long-term success and the Thunder know that. If they want to make significant strides, the Thunder need to put a stop to the defensive leakage that’s grown larger over time.

Let’s take a look at Thunder player grades.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: A-minus

Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

While it was another 30-point performance for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — the 11th of his season — it wasn’t the most efficient or effective of the bunch.

Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 30 points on 9-of-22 shooting and went 12-of-12 from the free-throw line. He finished with seven assists and five rebounds.

Outside of this game, I think it’s pretty crazy and speaks volumes of the progress he’s made where we can start labeling 30-point performance by Gilgeous-Alexander on how loud or quiet they were.

In this case, it wasn’t as impactful as previous performances from Gilgeous-Alexander as the Knicks did a good job at not allowing him to singlehandedly bring the Thunder back into the game.

Lu Dort: A

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Outside of Gilgeous-Alexander, Dort was the only other player on the Thunder to pick up some of the scoring slack.

Dort scored a season-high 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting and went 3-of-4 from 3. He finished with three assists and eight rebounds. It was a solid individual performance for Dort an otherwise forgettable night for the Thunder.

Josh Giddey: B-plus

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Giddey finished with 18 points on 8-of-15 shooting, nine rebounds and seven assists.

This was a good performance for Giddey against a Knicks team he’s basically always stepped up to play against in his young career. More importantly, Giddey’s scoring was effective this game — a nice sight to see after an inconsistent start with his shooting.

After the game, Giddey said he thinks he’s fitting in well with Gilgeous-Alexander but noted building rapport will take time and cited other backcourt duos such as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

“It’s not gonna work like a 10-year duo,” said Giddey. “(We’re) getting better with that every game we play.”


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