As a wintry mix of rain and snow fell upon Broadway Thursday night, there was a thunderstorm inside Madison Square Garden. The New York Knicks battled the Oklahoma City Thunder to the final buzzer, but J.R. Smith's last shot clanged off the iron and OKC walked away 95-94 winners.
Smith had a season-high 36 points to lead the Knicks. Kevin Durant scored 34, including 14-of-15 from the foul line, but he also had seven turnovers.
This matchup was a war of pace; Oklahoma City operates at the eighth-highest rate in the league, while New York is in the bottom eight (possessions per game via ESPN).
The Knicks could ill afford to get into a shootout with Durant and company, especially since Carmelo Anthony's sore knee kept him out again. And New York succeeded by limiting the Thunder to just 95 points—10 below their season average.
Good point guards have savaged the Knicks again and again, so it was no surprise that Russell Westbrook dropped 15 points in the first quarter. But he stepped on Iman Shumpert's foot and tweaked his ankle, sending him to the locker room early. In 36 minutes of total action, Westbrook scored only six more points the rest of the way.
After New York trailed by as many as 11 in the first half, J.R. Smith's 18 points in the second quarter closed the score to 59-56 at halftime.
The Knicks opened the third quarter by shooting a paltry 1-of-14 from the field in the first six minutes. Still, they only trailed by five points.
On the back of an enlivened Amar'e Stoudemire and more hot shooting from Smith, the Knicks entered the final frame with a six-point lead. New York started slow in the fourth as well, but another J.R. Smith three-pointer gave them a one-point advantage with four minutes remaining. After a back-and-forth finale, Smith couldn't quite carry the Knicks to victory, bricking a turnaround jumper in the final seconds.
It was a tough loss for New York, but they can be proud of the effort they put forth in Melo's absence against an excellent squad. The Thunder average the most points scored per possession in the league and they allow the sixth-fewest points per possession on defense (per ESPN).
It was the Knicks' first meeting with OKC this season and will wrap up the series on April 7 in Oklahoma.
The Thunder, by contrast, were a formidable 44-16 and still three games back of the San Antonio Spurs in the West.
So let's find out how the Knickerbockers graded out in this tough test against the reigning Western Conference champs.
Raymond Felton, PG: B-
After going 10-of-15 from the field on Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons, Felton was unable to duplicate the same efficiency.
Though he scored a dozen first-half points on 4-of-6 shooting, he missed eight of his next nine shots and ended up just 1-of-8 from three-point range.
Still, Felton finished with 16 points.
While he did commit four turnovers, it was well shy of his seven gaffes versus Detroit. However, his final turnover came with the Knicks trailing by one and just 90 seconds left.
Iman Shumpert, SG: C-
Shumpert drained three treys to kick off the first quarter the precious night against the Detroit Pistons. He did not score after that.
Thursday night, Shumpert missed both his shots in the first half while securing one rebound and committing three fouls.
He did finish a nice breakaway with a layup in the fourth quarter, but overall Shumpert was just 1-of-7 shooting. He looked markedly slower playing in the second game of a back-to-back.
He's also on a disturbing trend of carrying the team's worst plus/minus performances, finishing this one with a team-low minus-11.
James White, SF: C
Even though James White came into the night having started all four games in March, he averaged just 7.5 minutes and half a point in those contests.
Thankfully, White finally took flight in this one, nailing a pair of three-pointers in the game's first three minutes. While he didn't score thereafter, the Knicks will take six points a game from their fill-in.
White also saw minutes to open the second half as fellow place-holding starter Kurt Thomas gave way to Amar'e Stoudemire. White will certainly take 12-plus minutes a game when he can get them.
Kurt Thomas, PF: C-
Thomas again found himself as the starter with the impossible task of replacing the injured Carmelo Anthony.
Of course, starting the 40-year-old Thomas is as much a strategy to help manage Amar'e Stoudemire's minutes as anything else.
Thomas did succeed in hitting a shot in the early going, but he tallied just five minutes in the effort. He also snagged a couple of rebounds.
Tyson Chandler, C: B
Chandler notched just five points and three rebounds (two offensive) in the first half, as Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins cleaned up for 10 rebounds.
Though Chandler did get an assist and a steal, the Knicks needed more from the reigning DPOTY.
So it's a good thing Chandler became a force on the interior in the second half, crashing the boards and flashing an emphatic putback dunk at one point.
Chandler finished with nine points and 10 boards, but he also committed four turnovers.
J.R. Smith, SG: A+
This was the night's TNT showcase, but if you asked MSG announcer Walt Frazier, he would surely say that J.R. Smith began "percolating" in the second quarter.
New York's sixth man poured in 18 points in the second quarter as the Knicks briefly tied the game after trailing by as much as 11.
And J.R. wasn't done there—not by a long shot. Smith dropped 13 more points in the third as New York managed to open up a six-point lead.
He became the only Knick other than 'Melo to score over 30 points this season, and Smith did it in just two quarters. He finished with 36 points on 14-of-29 from the field in 36 minutes, though he was unable to sink the game-winner to cap this thriller.
Amar'e Stoudemire, PF: B+
Stoudemire struggled with his shot in the first half, managing to hit just two of seven from the field. He scored six points, but the most memorable moment was his inadvertent elbow delivered to Serge Ibaka's jaw. Somewhere, Blake Griffin was smiling.
Nevertheless, "Iblocka" was out in force, menacing in the middle and missing only a minute or so with his bloody tongue. After Ibaka swatted five shots through two-and-a-half quarters, Stoudemire came out of a timeout energized.
He knocked down a short hook shot, then got a rim-rattling slam after pivoting around the Serge Protector for position. The encore was his signature jumper from just beyond the elbow.
STAT also stuffed Derek Fisher on a breakaway layup, sending the 38-year-old flying into the baseline cameramen.
Stoudemire ended up with 16 points, but his poor shooting early doomed him to an inefficient stat line, with 5-of-16 in the FGM-FGA category. He pulled down eight rebounds (six offensive) in his 29 minutes of play.
Rest of Bench: B
Jason Kidd did not attempt a shot in the first half, though he did come up with a steal and a block. In the second half, Kidd must've brought his Windex, because he was cleaning up on the glass, finishing with 10 boards.
Kenyon Martin made his second appearance as a Knick, receiving a warm welcome from the MSG crowd when he entered in the final minute of the first quarter.
K-Mart was very energetic and played solid defense, at times matched against scoring king Kevin Durant. Martin was whistled for a flagrant foul on Durant in the third quarter, but it was downgraded to a personal after review.
Martin's putback slam late in the second quarter pulled New York within four points, while he tied the game with an alley-oop layup shortly thereafter. K-Mart fouled out in the game's final two minutes. Classic.
Steve Novak hit a three and tallied a steal in the first half, but the lowlight was his attempt to draw a foul by jumping into the defender...only to change his mind mid-air and try a pass. It was stolen. Novak did not attempt a shot in the second half.
Pablo Prigioni did not play despite the Nueva York Knicks celebrating "Noche Latina." Marcus Camby and Chris Copeland also stayed on the bench all game.
The Knicks have a torturous schedule ahead of them. They host the Utah Jazz on Saturday, then embark on a five-game West Coast swing against the Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers, L.A. Clippers and Jazz.
New York would be happy to play .500 basketball over those six games.