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.