What a difference eight days ... and a lack of 26 points ... make.
The New York Knicks' headliners played their most complete game of the season on Monday night, as RJ Barrett, Jalen Brunson, and Julius Randle enjoyed lucrative evenings in a 129-119 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Paycom Center.
Brunson tied his regular season career-high with 34 points on 14-of-20 shooting from the field and dished out nine assists, including a pair of crowd-silencing alley-oops to Barrett and Jericho Sims to cap things off. The former had his best night of the season by far, snapping out of an extended shooting slump with 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting, including 3-of-4 from three-point range. Though he likewise missed out on a double-double, Randle finished the job by matching Barrett's 25 points and 11 rebounds.
The trio's showcase, further supported by 18 points for Immanuel Quickley and a combined 15 rebounds for Sims and Isaiah Hartenstein, allowed the Knicks (9-9) to emerge from a five-game western swing with a 3-2 record, which included wins over Utah and Denver at the start. New York also earned revenge for an embarrassing 145-135 loss the Thunder (7-10) bestowed at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 13.
Monday's matchup had a start eerily similar start to the Manhattan edition: the Knicks led 38-34 after the first dozen minutes, falling 10 points short of the franchise record that was more or less forgotten in the defensive no-show. Barrett and Quickley each had nine points and united to sink 7-of-7 from the field, shooting their way out of cold streaks: Barrett was particularly shaky, entering the game shooting just 27 percent from the field over the first four games of the trip.
Unlike the Thunder's New York visit, the Knicks' defense bore down in the second quarter, embarking on a 14-3 run during the middle stages that saw Oklahoma City shoot 0-of-10 from the field. While Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had another strong scoring night for the Thunder, leaving them with 30, a sizable part of that came from the foul line.
In other adjustments from recent losses, the Knicks cleaned up their act on the glass, outrebounding Oklahoma City 48-38 after losing Sunday's board battle in Phoenix by 21. The defensive success was further on display in the third quarter: the Thunder entered with a league-best 4.2-point differential in the third frame but the Knicks emerged from the period with a tie despite a late rush that sliced their lengthy lead to seven.
New York's win came without the services of guards Cam Reddish (groin) and Derrick Rose (toe), each of whom were beset by injuries. Quentin Grimes once again took over Reddish's starting five spot while Miles McBride earned Rose's minutes.
Looking to build on the positive momentum developed during the trip, the Knicks will get an extended holiday going into Thanksgiving. They return to action on Friday night against the Portland Trail Blazers (7:30 p.m. ET, MSG).
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags
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