What a game! I was confident in the Knicks’ chances considering they battled the Thunder down to the final shot at Madison Square Garden last month without Melo. The big concern was how our slower and older guards would handle the merciless penetration of Russell Westbrook and OKC’s strong frontline with Kenyon Martin sitting out his second game. The response came from our bench, who fought tooth and nail to set the table for the Knicks to outgun the Thunder in the final minute to pick up arguably their best road win of the season.
OKC LIVES AT THE FREE THROW LINE, THE KNICKS BEHIND THE ARC: The first quarter was very annoying to watch as the refs called a bunch of ticky-tack fouls on what seemed like every Knicks player. Any contact on Durant, no matter how light, resulted in a foul call. Just four minutes in, Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni had two fouls apiece. Melo got his second a few minutes later, helping the Thunder get out to a 21-14 lead.
Like the first game, the Knicks were not intimidated and roared back behind two three-pointers from Jason Kidd. The Knicks would end up going 6/7 in the first quarter and were only down 31-30 despite the Thunder shooting over 60% from the field.
COPES SHOWS AND PROVES: The knock on Chris Copeland is that while he can score, it’s offset by the fact he’s a huge defensive liability. That wasn’t the case today. Copeland’s first half offense was crucial in keeping the Knicks in it with Melo sitting. He had 13 points that came from behind the arc and also in the paint. On defense, he swatted away a Westbrook drive and had active hands in causing deflections. And with ball movement, he kept the forced shots to a minimum, giving a sweet assist to Steve Novak for an open trey (who was 2-4 from downtown in the first half).
The bench output was the main reason the Knicks were able to go up by as much as 12 in the first half before settling for a 65-56 halftime lead.
SURVIVING THE RUNS: As expected, the Thunder made strong pushes in the third and fourth quarters. Each time, the Knicks had an answer. When the Thunder got to within a point (84-83) with 2:52 left in the third, Melo drained a three. When the Thunder took a brief fourth quarter lead, guys like Raymond Felton brought the momentum back.
Speaking of Ray, that man knows no fear in crunch time. Like he did in the fourth quarters against the Hawks and Bucks, he continued going right into the teeth of the defense. His aggressiveness resulted in 16 points and 8 assists.
MELO WINS HIS DUEL: It’s been a minute since Durant and Melo went at each other and it didn’t disappoint. While Westbrook was the primary scorer this afternoon (37 points), Durant wasn’t too shabby either with his 27 points. However, Melo dropped 36 and was most impressive with his attack on the offensive glass, where he had a season-high in nine (12 rebounds total). It was a welcome sight to see Melo keep his cool and get the putbacks despite being fouled repeatedly. He had two key tip-ins (one off his own miss and another off a missed JR free throw) late that gave NY a little breathing room and set up the coup de grace…
JR CLOSES THE SHOW: JR Smith didn’t shoot well today. He missed a few open threes early in the fourth that could have ended some of the late drama. But like he’s done all throughout this winning streak, JR got it done when the game was on the line. With the Knicks clinging to a 115-113 lead, Smith hit a long jumper with the shot clock expiring to make it 117-113. And on the next possession, Smith bailed us out with a dagger three to ice it. Applaud this man.
THE BENCH: The Knicks bench outscored the Thunder’s 55-30. JR was JR with his 22 points, but Kidd’s 14 and Copeland’s 13 were huge contributions. A total team win.
THE CRITICS ARE QUIET: No one gave us any slack when we rolled out our banged up lineups, but we were quick to hear about how our recent Heat win didn’t mean anything with Wade and James sitting. Well, the Thunder were at full strength and out for blood. They were turned back on their home floor. Speaking of emphatic road wins, the Knicks have them in abundance this year against the Spurs, Heat (2X),Celtics and now Thunder.
The Knicks have their first 50 win season in 13 years and are just one win away from securing their first Atlantic division crown since 1994. Taking out the Thunder was their 12th straight win. And this is all without having a fully healthy roster the entire year.
You’re still not a believer? It doesn’t matter — the Knicks know they are for real.