The Russell Westbrook show, a season-long performance in its early stages, literally hit the big stage tonight as the Oklahoma City Thunder played to rave reviews, albeit Off Broadway in the World's Most Famous Arena. The Thunder, along with the uncanny yeoman's effort which Westbrook routinely supplies usually in the form of triple-doubles (as he did tonight), defeated the New York Knicks 112-103. Turning what was an 11-point 1st quarter deficit into a "knock 'em down, drag 'em out" beatdown.
The Knicks, as mentioned before, squandered an early lead by allowing Westbrook his usual forays into the paint. Wrecking havoc to the tune of his 8th triple double of the season as he finished with a line of 27 points, 18 rebounds, and 14 assists, along with contributions from Enes Kanter and Steven Adams, who scored 27 points and 14 points respectively. The Knicks seemingly could not, nor did not want to, provide the effort defensively that was needed to support their offensive output.
The objective to winning in any sport is to outscore your opponent, especially in basketball. This, however, does not mean that in order to be victorious that it is all about scoring points. Defense matters. Keeping your opponent from scoring as much as you do ultimately is the deciding factor between wins and losses. The ancillary components of the game come into play as well in support of the success of teams in the form of taking care of the ball via not turning the ball over. Securing rebounds on the defensive side of the court matter as well. These seemingly minute, but critical, aspects of the game have always played a hand in how any team on any given night will fare against another team. Handle these functions of the game and you will find yourself if not at the very least in contention in most contents. Excel at these functions of the game and you will find your team at the top of the standings, year in and year out. And yet, in the effort to be a more cohesive unit, these are some of the issues that continue to plague Knicks.
Seventeen games in, with a record of 8-9, after seemingly finding their way and their identity in propelling themselves to an 8-7 record, the Knicks have now lost two in a row. No the sky is not falling, as the need to panic this early into the season reeks of the desperation which has emanated from the bowels of Madison Square Garden for what feels like the last decade or so (minus lackluster playoff appearances from 2010-2012), but the signs are alarming enough. Are they harbingers of what might finally do in this version of the Knicks? Or is this something that can be corrected by alot of tape? No, not the tape that is used to stabilize joints and limbs, although that would seem helpful as the Knicks looked as disjointed and wobbly as ever on both sides of the floor, but tape as in watching film and figuring out exactly what will be the Knicks approach to defending (pick and rolls especially) and not being out-hustled and out-worked on the defensive glass. Also up for review: What to do offensively in the waning moments of games when possessions are crucial and the conversion of shot attempts can decide a game, whether ahead or behind.
The Knicks for now continue to be a work in progress. Pieces of the puzzle to their identity continue to be put into place. Tonight Russell Westbrook and the Thunder knocked most of those pieces out of place.
[Editor's Note: This piece originally was intended to appear during the New York Knicks 2016-2017 campaign.]