Knicks forward Julius Randle looks on against the Thunder in...

Knicks forward Julius Randle looks on against the Thunder in the first half of an NBA game at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

For any team, but especially a young team like the Oklahoma City Thunder, a day on the schedule like this one can be the most dangerous of traps — given a Saturday night to enjoy the nightlife in New York City and then required to be ready for a noon tipoff Sunday. And that trap looked as if they were falling directly into it as the Knicks scored  48 points in the first quarter. 

But once the alarm sounded for the Thunder, it also may have sounded on the Knicks' season.

With boos raining down from what is usually a family day crowd, the Knicks' defense completely collapsed as Oklahoma City worked the Madison Square Garden scoreboard like a pinball machine, beating the Knicks, 145-135.

“We got to do everything with a sense of urgency as a team,” Jalen Brunson said. “You’ve got to be able to control what you can control and basically hold each other accountable. Just not give them the easy looks, not let them get confidence. 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.”

“The challenge for us is to be consistent,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We can’t be up and down. It’s hard. It’s a hard league. There’s no shortcuts in this league. We think 135 points, we should be walking out with a win. 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.”

After allowing 43 points in each of the middle two quarters, the Knicks trailed 122-106 after three periods. At that point, the Thunder were shooting 69.7% overall  and 63.0% from three-point range and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander already had 35 of his 37 points.

The 145 points were the most surrendered by the Knicks in any game since Thibodeau took over as head coach. With a daunting five-game road trip and criticism of the coach growing, it hardly came at an opportune time. But it’s hard to blame Thibodeau when there were so many problems on the court.

When the game ended, there were boos from every part of the Garden. And for the second time in the last three games, there was griping in the locker room about the lack of intensity and effort.

“First you’ve got to have effort and then you can get into the execution part,” Julius Randle said. “I don’t know if we can really judge the execution if our effort wasn’t there.”

The Knicks were at a loss for any way to slow Gilgeous-Alexander, the latest opposing star to pick them apart. He scored 21 points in the third quarter and finished with eight assists, joining the likes of Donovan Mitchell, Kevin Durant and Jayson Tatum as stars who have dominated the Knicks this season.

In the Knicks' search for a star, Gilgeous-Alexander is the latest to be the subject of conjecture —  highly paid on a team that is building for the future.

“The thing that sits with me is the disappointment of losing. We have to look at every game and say, OK, what do we have to fix, what do we have to prioritize?” Thibodeau said. “Obviously, you’re not working on everything. But I know if we’re relying on trying to outscore people, that’s not going to work. Our margin of error is small. We have to play with great intensity on every possession. When we do that, we’re very successful.” 

Cam Reddish had 26 points, Randle added 25 points and 10 rebounds and Immanuel Quickley scored 24 points off the bench for the Knicks (6-7). Josh Giddey had 24 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds and Luguentz Dort added 24 points for the Thunder (6-7). 

The Knicks set a franchise record for first-quarter points and led 48-36 at the end of the period. While the Thunder boast long and tall players in the backcourt, they have little heft on the front line, and the Knicks took advantage, scoring 32 points in the paint in the quarter. But that faded quickly as the offense slowed and the defense opened the doors wide open.

By halftime, the Knicks were trailing 79-73.  OKC shot 8-for-11  and the Knicks were 1-for-7 from three-point range in the second quarter. The Thunder entered the game ranked 29th in three-point shooting percentage in the NBA at 31.5% and seemed determined to climb the ranks in this game alone, finishing 17-for-31 (54.8%) from beyond the arc.

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