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Gilgeous-Alexander scores 23, Thunder beat Knicks 95-80

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander returned from a one-game absence to score 23 points, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat a depleted New York Knicks team 95-80 on Friday night.

Gilgeous-Alexander, the reigning NBA Western Conference Player of the Week, sat out Wednesday’s loss at Phoenix with ankle soreness, but played a team-high 34 minutes. Aaron Wiggins scored 13 and Ty Jerome had 11 points.

The Thunder came into the game giving up 108.2 points per game. The Knicks’ total was the lowest for an Oklahoma City opponent all season.

Gilgeous-Alexander credited the team’s mindset in posting their best defensive performance of the year.

“Every night we try to make the paint difficult for teams,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “We know that’s where the best shots are generated. I think that was the main focus tonight. And we executed it.”

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) shoots between New York Knicks forward Obi Toppin (1) and guard Miles McBride (2). PHOTO: AP

RJ Barrett had 26 points and Immanuel Quickley scored 11 for the Knicks, who were without Julius Randle and Kemba Walker.

It was a special night for Thunder assistant coach Mike Wilks, who took over this week for coach Mark Daigneault, who is in the NBA’s health and safety protocol. Wilks got his first win and after the game, Thunder players showered him with water and awarded him with the game ball.

Wilks said it was certainly memorable to get the victory on New Year’s Eve.

“Everybody in the organisation contributed to this,” Wilks said. “Our coaching staff did a phenomenal job. And the players came out and played the right way. So glad we came out on top tonight.”

The Knicks led by as many as nine in the first quarter behind quick starts from Mitchell Robinson and Evan Fournier. But Jerome made a 3-pointer in the final minute of the first quarter to give Oklahoma City its first lead, 23-20, and never trailed the rest of the way.

Jerome opened the second quarter with another 3-point basket, then fed Theo Maledon for another 3 to complete a 9-0 run.

Oklahoma City went up by 10 in the second quarter, but Barrett completed a drive just before halftime to make it 51-49 in favor of the Thunder.

New York scored six straight to open the fourth quarter to cut the Thunder lead to 74-71, but Oklahoma City responded with a 7-0 run to push the lead back to double digits.