The Oklahoma City Thunder survived despite a 36 point outing from J.R. Smith, defeating the New York Knicks, 95-94.
The Thunder were led by Kevin Durant, who had 34 points on the night. Durant came up big on both sides of the floor in the fourth, leading OKC in offense and was responsible for helping to stop Smith's hot hand. The Thunder as whole held the Knicks to only 13 points in the fourth, including one made basket over the final 3 minutes.
Tonight was suppose to be a battle between the league's two leading scorers, but Carmelo Anthony was held out of the game due to a knee injury suffered last night against Detroit. Instead, the Knicks relied upon Smith to carry the offensive load. Although many of us expected a high scoring affair, the game turned into a defensive battle that went down to the wire.
For the first three quarters, the Thunder had no answer defensively for Smith, who scored 31 before the final period. Scott Brooks finally made a change, switching Durant and Westbrook on J.R. to prevent him from getting any good looks. New York's offense stalled, allowing the Thunder to come back and take the lead. Brooks made another change at the final seconds, putting Westbrook on Smith for the final shot. J.R. was unable to get past Westbrook and settled for a fadeaway jumper which was off the mark.
Russell Westbrook ended the night with 21 points, and Kevin Martin added 16. For the Knicks, A'mare Stoudemire and Raymond Felton both had 16.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
Although the Knicks have cooled off since they were the hottest team in the NBA earlier this season, tonight was a big win against the #2 team in the East. Without Carmelo however, this should have been an easy win. OKC was sloppy with the ball, after committing just 2 turnovers against the Lakers on Tuesday, tonight OKC had 16, including a combined 12 between Durant and Westbrook.
On the plus side, Kevin Martin had one of his best road games he's had in a while. His 16 points and 4-6 FG tonight, was exactly what the Thunder need him for. Whether it's something different in his style of play, or the effects of playing in Madison Square Garden remains to be seen. Typically we've seen the Thunder turn into a two man show when they're on the road, instead they had four players in double figures, and Reggie Jackson had 8.
Another side note, Derek Fisher went 0-4 tonight, making him 3-14 for 10 points in the 4 games he's played for the Thunder this year. Also, the former Knick, Ronnie Brewer, didn't see any action tonight, which was pretty disappointing.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
The Thunder and Scott Brooks finally showed they can actually make in game adjustments and are playing much better 4th quarter defense. They changed up their defensive scheme in the fourth to slow down J.R., switching out Sefolosha for Durant and Westbrook. Smith had 31 points through the first three quarters before going 2-9 for 5 points in the fourth.
The Knicks only scored 13 points in the fourth after averaging 27 over the first 3 quarters. OKC didn't do too much better in the fourth, going 6-16 for 20 points, but it was enough for the win.
This makes the 2nd game in a row where OKC's defense has been the late game star. Against the Lakers, the Thunder held L.A. scoreless for 6:13 in the game.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
The 3rd quarter pretty much summed up the whole game. The Thunder held the Knicks to 1-14 FG for the first 6 minutes in the second half, but due to their own poor play, only outscored the Knicks 6-4 during that time. For the last six minutes of the third, the Knicks went 9-12 for 75 FG%, outscoring the Thunder 21-10. No matter what happened, the Thunder played to level of their opponent.
The Thunder elected not to go to their bench very much this game, instead both teams kept a small lineup throughout the night. Besides Martin, only Collison, Fisher, and Jackson logged any minutes (each just over 10). Part of it may be to the poor play OKC has had from their bench. The Knicks kept starters Kurt Thomas to 5 minutes, and James White to 12, opting to match the Thunder's small lineup.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
The Thunder will now go to Charlotte to face the Bobcats for the first time since the 114-69 win in November. The Bobcats' season hasn't gone much better since that. After entering their game against OKC with a 7-5 record, the Bobcats have gone 6-42 since then.
The Thunder will host the Knicks again exactly one month from today. At that time, the season will be winding down and it could be a battle for the league's scoring title.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 34 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, 12 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks.
Thunder Blunder: Derek Fisher, 0 points, 0-4 FG, 1 turnover.
Thunder Plunderer: J.R. Smith, 36 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists.
Next game: @ Charlotte Bobcats, Tomorrow, March 8th @ 6:00 pm CT
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