NBA news: Josh Giddey’s triple-double against Knicks earns historic place with Luka Doncic and Wilt Chamberlain

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CHRIS ANSTEY sat on the baseline for Josh Giddey’s historic triple-double at Madison Square Garden. What he saw up close from the Aussie NBA star was extraordinary.

I sat behind the baseline at Madison Square Garden with 35 touring Australian basketball fans and watched Josh Giddey and his Oklahoma City Thunder warm up to take on the New York Knicks.

Giddey worked his way methodically around the three-point line.

Swish. Swish.

His jump shot still wasn’t perfect, but it had improved in the off-season and looked rhythmical. His final set of five consecutive makes came from the baseline corner right in front of our group. Thirty-five mobile phones captured each shot of Australia’s best basketball player.

“G’day mate.” I smiled as I caught Giddey’s eye and he wandered over. We chatted for a moment before I turned his attention to our group.

“I’d love to have a chat with them but I’m due in the weight room. Will you still be here in 30 minutes?” he asked.

Unfortunately for our group we wouldn’t, but he made sure he took a few photos and signed a few autographs, one alongside his dad Warrick’s, as he left the arena.

As much as the group would have loved a few insights from Josh, and I’m sure Josh would have loved to share some with a group of Aussie basketball fans, I couldn’t help but be impressed by his professionalism. The NBA schedule is brutal and between logging more than 30 minutes a game as a 20-year-old, Giddey realises his improvement also lies in the hours either side of games.

In the hours before a 12pm matinee game in the most famous basketball arena in the world, with another game in Boston scheduled for the following night, our brightest sporting star was locked into getting better. Since the NBA became aware of Giddey, question marks have lingered around his perimeter shooting and his strength.

These question marks won’t be around much longer. Two hundred pre-game made shots: Check. Thirty-minute weight session: Check.

An hour later, trailing 0-4 after a minute of play, the ball found its way back into Giddey’s hands in the same corner we had just watched him complete his shooting drills. Same drill, bigger stage. Feet set, no hesitation, he let it fly.

Swish.

As the Knicks set about recording a franchise-high first quarter score on the back of some incredible, and it would turn out unsustainable, perimeter shooting, it was Giddey that shouldered the responsibility of keeping his Thunder in touch.

He sees the floor early and rewards his teammates for getting into space. His ability to use on-ball screens to get to his favourite spots around the free throw line is already elite, as is his passing ability once he gets there. The shot that stood out, however, was his floater from just inside the paint. The Knicks were so concerned with leaving open shooters for Giddey to find that they almost dared him to create his own shot.

Snake dribble off an on-ball screen, control your defender and knock down multiple mid-range floaters: Check.

I looked at the scoreboard before halftime. The clock ticked under two minutes. Giddey had led the Thunder back from a 10-point quarter time deficit, compiling 13 points and seven assists. If only he hadn’t spent so many minutes chasing around the Knicks’ greatest perimeter playmaking and scoring threat, Jalen Brunson. He may have had more than two rebounds and be a triple-double chance.

Ability to switch screens, defend wings equally effectively as guards and in-turn, secure contested rebounds: Check.

Giddey’s two rebounds in the final 90 seconds of the half had us buzzing through the intermission at the thought of another Madison Square Garden triple-double.

Watching an NBA game live presents a much different perspective than watching on TV. Players are bigger and faster; space is closed down and decisions are required to be made more quickly. For Giddey, though, the game slows down. Like Luka Doncic, he controls both the ball and the defenders in his area and has the length to pass over or around them.

Defensively, it’s often easier to defend players who make a quick, obvious decision and play fast. Giddey, like Doncic, plays with such poise and composure that defenders are often frozen trying to guess which choice he will make. The speed and accuracy of his passes render out-of-position defenders useless, and his improved touch on his shot means even more help will eventually have to come.

Sure, veteran physical defenders and championship-calibre defensive scouting like Marcus Smart and the Boston Celtics will continue to be challenging for Josh as he ticks over his countless shooting and lifting sessions, but they also challenge the greats.

As much as Giddey has improved his shot, he may very well have improved the defensive side of his game more.

Through the first half of the Knicks game, Oklahoma City had the luxury of having Giddey effectively defend Brunson, using his length and improved speed to bother his smaller opponent. His improved physicality allowed him to fight over screens away from the ball, while also being able to switch onto, deny and rebound against bigger forwards in on-ball screen situations.

Which is exactly what he did as the second half started and the Knicks went almost exclusively to their on-ball screen game. With Giddey now switched onto bigger opponents and spending more time closer to the basket, he began compiling rebounds on that end of the floor while he maintained control of the game at the other.

With teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on fire in the third quarter, I was equally impressed with Josh’s willingness and ability to play without the ball in his hands. Coaches in Philadelphia and Brooklyn have been battling for years to get Ben Simmons to buy into and develop what I watched Josh Giddey almost master in the third quarter: finding the baseline ‘dunker’ position, reading the ball carrier and becoming an active scorer from there.

Mastering new elements of the NBA game: Check.

In an increasingly restless yet quiet Madison Square Garden, the Oklahoma City Thunder never let the Knicks back into a game that they had circled as a must-win. With a Knicks loss a formality in the closing minute, thousands of fans had made their way towards the exit, their interest in the game exhausted.

Most of the noise came from the group of 36 Aussies hoping for Giddey to record a 10th rebound in the dying seconds to go alongside the 24 points and 12 rebounds he had amassed. It came from the last shot of the game, a straightaway miss that Giddey went and secured, and in doing so, registered his second triple-double in as many games at the Garden.

Our group celebrated, I smiled, and we watched the crowd file out as Giddey completed his post-game interview.

Any triple-double is a special performance. This Madison Square Garden masterclass was his fifth NBA career triple-double; the fact that he recorded one in each of his first two games in the hallowed arena is a feat only one other player in NBA history has achieved.

Josh Giddey taking his place alongside Wilt Chamberlain in the NBA history books: Check.

Chris Anstey is a former professional basketball player who played in the NBA, Russia, Spain and domestically in the NBL, as well as at the Olympics for the Australian Boomers. He started his career in 1994 for the Melbourne Tigers and had stints for the Dallas Mavericks and Chicago Bulls. After finishing up his playing career in 2010, he coached the Melbourne Tigers and United from 2012-2014. He won two NBL MVP awards and was the Gaze Medal winner in 2002. He has had a stellar media career since retirement and has a unique insight into the world of basketball both in Australia and overseas.



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