There is no sweeter feeling.
The Thunder are tied with the Knicks. They had been trailing since the early second quarter, but had a surge of a comeback in the fourth to bring this game down to the wire. Overtime might be nice, but you want the win. These Knicks need to be put away, before they get another run in extra minutes.
But, before the play unfolds, doubt sinks in. The Thunder have been in this situation before. And no matter how it's unfolded, the final play fails, and the Thunder lose. Sure, Jeff Green once hit a buzzer beater against the Warriors, but that was small-time. This is a game between big guns fighting for playoff position, and this game is at home. Over and over again in my mind I see Kevin Durant missing some long-range prayer, Sefolosha missing a wide-open three, or Westbrook dribbling it off of his foot and losing possession. However, none of that unfolded.
Fortunately for Thunder Nation, tonight was meant to be.
Sefolosha inbounds the ball to a streaking Westbrook. The hungry Knicks sit inside the perimeter, like a cat waiting for the right moment to pounce. But Westbrook immediately hands the ball off to Durant, who is far outside of the perimeter. Could he be looking for another deep triple?
Somehow, he is left with only one defender: Danilo Gallinari. Durant immediately runs to the opposite side of the court, towards the corner of the three point line. But now, there's no time left to drive. KD it going to have to shoot. Everyone holds their breath as he spots up for the jumper. Gallinari senses the jumper, but is not fast enough to stop it, and is unwilling to foul Durant as he shoots.
Below: The Game Winner, Analysis, Awards!
Durant lifts. He extends. The ball leaves his hands. It flies across the air in a perfect rainbow, the likes of which not even Derek Fisher has seen. After far too long in the air, it lands in the basket, bouncing off of the bottom of the far side of the rim. The crowd erupts, people in New York throw their television sets out the window, and young minds are left with everlasting memories. Kevin Durant had finally hit a buzzer beater at home.
But, let's back up for a second. How did this all get to happening? Well, in short, the Knicks were dominating us all night long. The Thunder's offense looked incredibly inept. Fouling kept us alive for the longest time, but players would get trapped in double teams. They'd try to pass to the middle, but the Knicks continually collapsed into the lane, preventing any reasonable passes. Additionally, the Turiaf/Stoudemire combo did an exceptional job of guarding the lane.
What saved the game? Well, the Krstic fan in me wants to give all of the credit to him. He started a terrific run early in the third that kept the Thunder within single digits for the rest of the game. The rest of the game was just exploiting fouls and mismatches when we could. D'Antoni's defense is easy to figure out, but not easy to win against when your team just isn't suited to play against it. By that I mean if you can't shoot threes and don't have a dominant big man, it's going to be a long day offensively. Luckily for the Thunder, D'Antoni's offense struggled when compared to it's regular output, as the Thunder have excellent perimeter defense.
The most puzzling thing about the game has to be the use of Daequan Cook. He was put in the game (presumably) to bring a perimeter scoring threat against D'Antoni's defense, which likes to keep close to the basket. But he wasn't used. Most of the time, he sat on the perimeter looking useless and neglected. When he did get the ball, he was usually covered, so he just made a few dribbles and passed. He took a few shots, but the attempts were prayers at best, and were taken out of desperation because the Thunder had no plays drawn up for him. I suppose he was useful in the sense that he kept a Knick defender on the perimeter because of the perceived three point threat, freeing up the lane. But that helpfulness had to be minimized by his defensive deficiency and lack of offensive productivity. A nice concept, but really poor execution.
On to the Awards....
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 30 Points, 12 Rebounds, 2 Assists, 1 Game Winning Shot
Thunder Down Under: Nenad Krstic, 12 Points, 6 Rebounds, 3 Steals
Thunder Blunder: Daequan Cook, 9:42 Minutes Played, 0 Points, 0-2 Three Pointers, 1 Rebound, 1 Assist
Thunder Plunderer: Amare Stoudemire, 18 Points, 12 Rebounds, 4 Assists, 2 Steals, 1 Block
Next Game: At the New Orleans Hornets, Monday, January 24th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.