The New York Knicks watched Arron Afflalo's potential game-winning fadeaway jumper at the fourth-quarter buzzer rim out, and it proved to be a crippling blow, as the Oklahoma City Thunder escaped Madison Square Garden with a 128-122 overtime win Tuesday night.
With Carmelo Anthony out because of a sore left knee, the Knicks (22-25) leaned heavily on Afflalo to pick up the slack with heavy doses of post-ups.
The New York guard, however, managed just 17 points on 6-of-21 shooting as his back-to-the-basket attempts were thwarted down the stretch.
According to the Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring, the Knicks are now 0-5 without Anthony in the lineup this season despite holding a lead or being tied entering the fourth quarter in each of those contests. They've also lost three straight.
Kevin Durant led Oklahoma City (34-13) with a season-high 44 points (12-of-26 shooting, 16-of-18 from the free-throw line), 14 rebounds and five assists. The All-Star became the first player this season to meet those benchmarks in a single game, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Twenty of Durant's points came in the fourth quarter and overtime as he helped erase an 11-point Knicks lead.
Russell Westbrook added 30 points (13-of-24 shooting), 10 assists and eight rebounds as he nearly notched his sixth triple-double of the season.
Taking Westbrook's lead, OKC swished and dished with confidence. Not only did the Thunder shoot 11-of-20 from three, but they assisted on exactly half of their made field goals.
Rookie backup point guard Cameron Payne was particularly impressive with 12 points—all of which came from beyond the arc. Serge Ibaka—who contributed a big bucket and block in overtime—finished with 12 points, a season-high 17 rebounds and two swats.
Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis didn't put forth his most efficient effort, but a signature first-quarter putback slam allowed him to announce his unicorn-like presence with authority:
Porzingis also denied Westbrook on a key fourth-quarter possession to tally one of his two blocks on the night:
Herring, however, was quick to point out Ibaka deserved credit for keeping Porzingis in check as New York searched for sources of sustainable offense sans Anthony:
The Knicks were able to make inroads when Thunder head coach Billy Donovan benched Durant and Westbrook simultaneously, but Durant's late-game takeover was too much for New York to handle without a reliable go-to scorer in the clutch.
Tuesday's loss was a tough one to swallow for the Knicks, but the competitive fire they showed against a star-studded team bodes well for the team's long-term outlook. Last year, New York set a franchise low with only 17 wins, but an injection of youth and talent has made it a tough matchup on a night-to-night basis.
The team may soon be plagued by tired legs, however. Three of the Knicks' last five games have gone to overtime—including a double-overtime win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Jan. 18—and they have only a day off before traveling to Canada for a showdown with the Toronto Raptors on Thursday (8 p.m. ET on TNT).
The Thunder won't get to rest much either, since they're slated to cap a four-game road trip against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday evening.
Oklahoma City will be rewarded with a three-game homestand after that, but Durant, Westbrook and Co. can't sleep on a Timberwolves team that's already seen them twice this month and will be determined to capture a win against its Northwest Division rival.
Knicks head coach Derek Fisher broke down why his team was so dependent on Afflalo in the post, per to Herring:
"Wasn't a perfect game, but the effort was perfect," Fisher said, according to the New York Post's Marc Berman.
Durant took time to explain an internal battle the Thunder have been fighting all season long, according to the Oklahoman's Anthony Slater:
Herring passed along a soundbite from Porzingis, who was a bit confused by Durant's pregame praise:
"My take is that we're a playoff team, period," Afflalo said, according to NorthJersey.com's Steve Popper. "If we don’t make the playoffs this year, we belong in the playoffs."