The Knicks didn’t secure their sixth win last season until their 26th game, four contests after head coach David Fizdale had been axed in early December following a 4-18 record.
It’s clearly not the time to nitpick, but new coach Tom Thibodeau’s improved team shot just 35.8 percent from the floor and 60 percent from the free-throw line Friday night in a 101-89 loss to the Thunder at the Garden, ending their three-game winning streak.
The Knicks (5-4) failed to earn a sixth win after nine games for the first time since an 8-1 start in 2012-13, when they finished with a 54-win season under current assistant coach Mike Woodson.
“I think it’s been great, very important,” RJ Barrett said before the game of the Knicks’ hot start. “It shows us that our work is paying off and our work is good, so we’ve got to continue to do what we’re doing and continue to get better each and every day and just trust the process.”
Barrett led the Knicks with 19 points in 44 minutes, but he missed 14 of 21 shots from the floor, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range.
Leading scorer Julius Randle was in early foul trouble and didn’t score in the first half, but he finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in 31 minutes.
“Winning is always good, but I think it’s more what we do each and every day,” Thibodeau said before the game. “There’s ups and downs in a season. If we’re doing the right things each day, we’ll get better and better.
“That’s what you strive towards. Each day that improvement. It’s a long season and we have to keep growing. There’s a lot of areas that we have to do a lot better in.”
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder (4-4) with 25 points, and Queens product Hamidou Diallo netted a season-high 23 points with 11 rebounds.
The Knicks, who will host the Nuggets on Sunday, led by as many as 11 in the first quarter. The Thunder netted the first eight points of the second quarter, however, to close within one, 24-23. Kenrich Williams’ layup gave Oklahoma City its first lead, 28-26 nearly midway through the period, and Al Horford’s 14th and 15th points of the half put the Thunder up 39-38 with two minutes to go.
A late Barrett floater and a Mitchell Robinson dunk carried the Knicks into intermission with a 42-42 tie. Ten lead changes in the third quarter had Oklahoma City up 57-56 midway through the period, before a dunk and two free throws by Diallo extended the Thunder’s lead to nine.
Wednesday’s fourth-quarter hero, Austin Rivers, drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer and an early bucket in the fourth to draw the Knicks back within four, but a steal and dunk by Diallo and a 3-pointer by Gilgeous-Alexander pushed the Knicks’ deficit to 13, their largest of the game, with 4:21 to go.
“We said it from the beginning that the first step for us was to become a quality practice team and that’s what you have to continue to do,” Thibodeau said. “You can’t let your guard down. You can’t start taking shortcuts. Once you start doing that you’ll see in the results. Put the work into each and every day and keep getting better. There’s usually a lot of small steps. They’re incremental. And you want to be playing your best at the end.”