I’m not even mad at this one. Well, I’m not mad at the players. Coaching, that’s another matter. With Melo again sitting, no one gave the Knicks much of a chance to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder last night. But for the entire game, the Knicks fought tooth and nail, putting themselves in position to take the win off a buzzer-beater from JR Smith, who spent much of the game lighting up whoever was assigned to guard him.
SURVIVING THE FIRST PUNCH: Coach Woodson started James White and Kurt Thomas again, but this time they contributed in their limited minutes. White hit two treys and Thomas hit a jumper and played decent defense. Nonetheless, the Thunder promptly began abusing the Knicks in transition to the tune of a 16-0 run to take a 23-13 lead. It was looking ugly, but the Knicks rallied behind their defense. Although they produced way too many fouls (10 free throw points), it kept the game from getting too out of hand, and the Knicks faced a 26-35 deficit after one quarter.
JR’s GREEN LIGHT: With Melo out, JR gunning was a formality. He delivered a scorching second quarter with 18 points. His shooting, which came on a nice mix of treys and drives to the basket, ignited the rest of the Knicks. Kenyon Martin was very physical with Kevin Durant, and K-Mart also supplied offense with a putback dunk and alley oop from JR.
THUNDER LIVES AT THE LINE: As hard as the Knicks played, their fouls allowed the Thunder to stay in it no matter the runs. Of course, there were questionable fouls. Other times, NY just made mental mistakes. A game like this is a perfect example of why Woody’s philosophy of constant defensive switching is bad news. On multiple plays, you saw Chandler and Stat isolated out on the perimeter against the likes of Durant and Westbrook. In all, OKC got 29 free throw attempts and made 25 of them. The most annoying pair came in the closing minutes when Woody took out Felton, who had just scored on a nice driving layup, to insert Martin on Durant. K-Mart promptly fouled in out 5 seconds, but gave up two free throws to Durant. You don’t want to pin a one-point loss on a random play, but that foul sticks out.
STAT HELD IN CHECK: We were all hoping for a big game from Amar’e, but OKC is not the Pistons. Serge Ibaka harassed Stat all night and turned him back at the rim no less than 4 times. Stat got a couple of good moves on him (including a nasty facial), but he never got a sustained rhythm, going 5-16 for 16 points in 28 minutes. On a positive note, Stat nabbed eight rebounds and made a concerted effort to crash the boards.
4TH QUARTER COLLAPSE, PART 2: Might be weird to read that considering the Knicks only lost by a point, but this was a slow death. No, it wan’t as dramatic as the damage the Heat did last weekend, but the same problems surfaced. The Knicks couldn’t score consistently (13 points in the quarter), who was settling for jumpers that were now off the mark. Going small with 3-4 guards only truly works if said guards can create their own shots, and the length of the OKC on the perimeter made that increasingly difficult. Still, the fact that the Knicks seemed content on jumpers with nothing going to the hole was frustrating to watch. And even with that, the Knicks got two stops in the final minute to get a chance to win it with 7 seconds left.
A TOUGH FADEAWAY JUMPER?: Of his 29 shots, the only one that truly baffled me was the long fadeaway JR took to end the game. His shot had been off for most of the fourth, so a drive to at least get him facing the basket for a better look would have been ideal.
As I said in the beginning, this loss doesn’t bother me much. K-Mart got significant playing time (which hopefully has opened Woody’s eyes), the team played with excellent effort, and nearly won a game they had no business even being in without their best player. Onto the next one, which is a home game against the Jazz Saturday night.