Thunder head coach Scott Brooks tried to get Kevin Durant going right off the bat, getting him the ball either in the post or on the wing for an isolation on 5 of the Thunder’s first 6 halfcourt possessions. James White started in his fifth straight game, only his second with Carmelo Anthony out with a knee injury, and opened up guarding Durant. White actually did a solid job, as Durant shot 1-5 from the field during the quarter. Raymond Felton on the other hand, was getting beasted and feasted by opposing Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, which brings up the question, why didn’t Woodson have Shumpert defend the scorching hot Westbrook from the opening tip? He eventually did have Iman guard Rus, but not until 4 minutes remained in the first quarter, and Westbrook had already accumulated most of his 15 first quarter points. The majority of those came in transition, where the Knicks severely lacked defensively. On top of all of this both Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert got into first quarter foul trouble, arguably the Knicks two best defenders. On offense, the Knicks were successful when running Felton-Chandler pick-and-rolls, getting great looks for Felton who had 9 in the quarter, and spot-up shooters such as James White who nailed 2 threes. When the bench came in, they provided no offensive spark. Smith and Stoudemire combined for 1-7 shooting, but this turned around quickly. The Thunder took off to an early 35-26 lead.
Enter, the J.R. Smith show. Smith had a 7-12 shooting quarter and totaled 18 points, effectively sending the Knicks on a run that would tie the game at one point late in the second. Kenyon Martin played the entire quarter, guarding Durant the entire way (he too never sat) and sent the Garden off with a strong put-back slam. The Knicks forced 5 turnovers in the quarter, using it to ignite fast breaks. The team seemed to play at a very D’Antoni-esque pace with their bench, and it worked for them here as they fought their way back into the contest. However, their own turnovers (5 in the quarter as well) let the Thunder go on a run themselves, which led them to take a 59-56 lead into halftime. The Knicks, despite Chandler being on the court for 7 minutes, went away from the pick-and-rolls with him that got great looks for shooters in the first quarter. In this case, Smith was the only offense the Knicks needed, pulling up from wherever, crossing over and nailing stepbacks with ease, and he wouldn’t cool off going into the third.
Coach Woodson opened up the game with STAT in the lineup replacing Kurt Thomas, and this gave us our first look at Stoudemire playing as a primary offensive option again, with J.R. Smith on the bench. He didn’t exactly look like his MVP-level self from two years ago, shooting 3-8 from the field and getting his shot blocked twice by Serge Ibaka. With both offenses in disarray early on in the quarter, (a combined 4 points after 4 minutes of game time) Woody subbed in J.R. Smith, who continued on his rampage. 5-6 shooting, adding on another 13 points to his already impressive game. Meanwhile, putting Shump on Russell Westbrook seemed to have done the trick (it could be this or a twisted ankle Westbrook suffered late in the first quarter) as he shot merely 1-6 from the field in this quarter. The Knicks defense stepped it up a notch after Smith came in and drained his first jumper, forcing 6 turnovers this quarter, and with it rode a run that secured them a 6-point lead when the buzzer sounded. The biggest momentum shifter came with 3 minutes to play. Stoudemire grabbed an offensive board and powered down a strong one-hander on Serge Ibaka, who was physically annoying STAT all game. Westbrook was then called for a charge, which led to a J.R. Smith three ball. A Smith steal later, Felton took it to the rack for a reverse layup, and STAT followed up that score with a mid-range jumper. 9-0 run for the Knicks, which was topped off by an Amar’e Stoudemire chasedown spike on the Thunder’s Derek Fisher, and a buzzer-beating J.R. Smith trey over two defenders.
In the fourth, Woody opened up early with a lineup that wasn’t used all night. Felton-Kidd-Shump-Smith-Tyson, with Smith at the power forward defending Kevin Durant. Oklahoma City, playing tougher defense and iso-Durant offense, started the quarter on a 9-2 run. The Knicks were badly stagnant on offense, not moving the ball around nearly as much as they should have, but stayed in the game with solid defense. Westbrook had a 0-3 shooting quarter, and the Thunder as a whole shot just 37% from the field. You would think this would translate into a W for New York considering the 6-point lead entering the quarter, but the Knicks just shot 22% from the field and had an offense running on J.R. Smith and STAT, who were both ice cold at this point. Smith’s three with 4 minutes to play game the Knicks a-1 point lead, and this followed by buckets being traded for the next couple of minutes. As the game winded down Tyson Chandler hadn’t checked back into the game after leaving earlier in the quarter. The Thunder were playing their small lineup, but with Stoudemire absent offensively and a serious need for defense prevalent, I was shocked to see Woody go with this. The trading of scores continued, with Felton’s sick spin move leading to a pair of free throws for Amar’e being matched by a Kevin Durant jumper. One minute to play now, with the Thunder in possession with under a minute remaining up 2 points, Westbrook misses a mid-range pull up. The Knicks call timeout and Woody thankfully draws up a play that would let the Knicks get a good shot and go for the 2-for-1, as 30 or so seconds were left in the game and 19 seconds left on the shot clock. It was an inbounds play for a wide-open J.R. Smith three, screened by Stoudemire, which missed. Following a Durant miss, the Knicks got one more shot down a single point, with 7.9 seconds to play. Woody called timeout, and drew up… well it wasn’t pretty. Smith caught the ball on the left side of the court, where he made two game-winners this season. He was given the isolation, but the spacing clearly wasn’t there, so Smith was forced to work baseline on Russell Westbrook, where he put up a leaning turnaround J that missed. Ball game, 95-94 Thunder.
- Yesterday I posted an article on Steve Novak’s worth lessening this season, and he did nothing more than prove my point in this contest. Novak played 13 minutes and put up 2 shots, both threes, making one.
- Like many games beforehand, Mike Woodson didn’t open up the game with Iman Shumpert guarding the opposing point guard. This is becoming ridiculous, as it’s that position that continues to burn the team with penetration, and Shumpert is undoubtedly our only chance at stopping that. Once Woody made the switch and put Iman on Westbrook, his offense was immediately deadlocked, although this of course could also be due to his twisted ankle. Either way, Woody needs to start games with Shump on the opposition’s point guard and not wait until they’ve gotten to the line 6 times and fed the ball to 3 wide open threes from teammates.
- This game was the second of a back-to-back for the Knicks, where they own a 7-4 record on the season. Oddly enough, the Knicks shoot 5% better from downtown in the second of back-to-back games than they do on the season.
- The Knicks had 13 turnovers in this contest, and are 14-16 on the season when they give the ball away 13 times or more. When they throw the ball away less than 13 times, their record is 27-11.
- Russell Westbrook tweaked his ankle late in the first, needing aid from the locker room before returning to the game early in the second quarter. Whether it was Shumpert’s D or the bothersome injury, he did not perform half as well as he did in the opening quarter for the rest of the game. I was fearful of the injury because I would hate to see Rus miss a game, as he’s played in every single possible NBA game since the beginning of his career, a feat I’m constantly impressed by.
- This is the second game Kneyon Martin has played as a Knick, and he certainly played well. The 16 minutes of action and strong defense were nice, but where I found myself giddy at the fact that he was a Knick was when he twice fouled Kevin Durant hard enough to make him hesitate going into the paint again, but legal enough that he wasn’t tossed. This kind of brute toughness is something the Knicks have badly needed lately.
- Iman Shumpert is still not where he needs to be offensively, with a 1-7 shooting night very much reminding us of that. His lack of explosiveness is clearly due to the ACL tear he suffered late last season, but it’s no excuse for his awful jumper that needs to start falling come Playoffs time.
- J.R. Smith had his bets game as a Knick, scoring 36 points on 48% shooting and effectively leading this Melo-less squad on both ends of the court, but alas in vain.
- The Knicks fell victim to an outrageous amount of superstar calls given to Kevin Durant, who was defended perfectly all night but still managed to score 34 points because of his 15 free throw attempts. Some calls were correct, most weren’t. Durant was an uncharacteristic 9-20 from the field.
- Mike Woodson showed a sign of improvement very late in the game, going with offense/defense substitutions between Martin and Felton, (which failed because of Martin picking up his sixth foul) and Chandler and Stoudemire. We’ve hardly seen this from him until now.