John Rohde: “Upon entering Madison Square Garden for Thursday’s morning shoot-around, the first security I saw immediately asked about the James Harden. Security: “How could you guys not sign him?” Me: “Couldn’t afford to. No cap space and tax penalties would have been too severe.” Security: “Man, everybody has to pay taxes.” Me: “Sign Harden and it would have been about $15 million in salary and potentially $10 million in taxes. You think Harden indirectly is worth $25 million when Kevin Durant is making less than $17 million?” Security: “No, but you still should have signed him, man.” Me: “That’s the problem when you have several players turn out to be great with contracts only a year apart.” Security: “The Knicks would have paid it.” Me: “I don’t doubt it.”
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: “Incredibly, Anthony’s knee issue robbed those in attendance and a national TV audience of what would have been the first matchup between Anthony and Durant at Madison Square Garden. It was the Thunder’s first game here since December 2010, two months before Anthony was traded from Denver to New York. “Melo’s like my big brother, and I enjoy competing against him,” said Kevin Durant, who had 34 points, eight rebounds and six assists. “But it’s better for our team that he’s not playing. I love to play against him. I hope he gets back healthy. We’ll see him in a couple of weeks anyway back in Oklahoma City. It’ll be a fun matchup, so I’m looking forward to that.” Durant paused. “Would’ve been in the Garden, playing against him,” he said. “It would’ve been a good battle, but I’m glad we got the win.” It was a good battle anyway, but one with an ending that didn’t have to be so anticlimactic.”
Fun fact about last night’s win: That’s the Thunder’s first one-point win of the season.
From Elias: “Kevin Durant scored 34 points and the Thunder needed every one of them as they eked out a 95-94 win over the Knicks in New York. Durant’s point total equaled the NBA high this season for a player in a game his team won by one point. Kobe Bryant and Monta Ellis also had 34-point games in one-point wins by their respective teams, each within the last week. The only player in the last 15 seasons to exceed Durant’s point total in a one-point win over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden was Tracy McGrady, who scored 35 points in a 92-91 Rockets victory at New York in January 2005.”
NBA pickup comparisons — fantastic. I’d say my pickup comparison would probably be Ray Allen, except for the statuesque form, and ability.
Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com: “Now, it’s mostly right back to where the Knicks were a year ago. They are in much better position because they have a deeper bench, on balance play better defense and Anthony has carried them to numerous victories. But they still can’t seem to maximize their resources; it still constantly feels like they’re leaving something on the table. It seems like there ought to be a way to make teams deal with Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler all at once, the way top teams like the Thunder have been able to meld their stars’ talents together. That golden game plan continues to allude them consistently.”
Seth Rosenthal of Posting and Toasting: “That stung. It took a special and mostly positive set of circumstances for that game to sting like it did, though. I got the feeling before tip-off that most of us sat down to watch this one praying for an unlikely win, but steeled for a blowout loss. Anything in between would spell heartbreak, and that’s what we got. Playing their fourth game in five nights without Carmelo Anthony against the 44-16 Thunder, New York didn’t fold. The Knicks made an impressive stand against the league’s best offense and rode J.R. Smith’s delirious scoring performance as far as they could. Alas, even that crazy critter’s proudest night can only take one so far. Relying on J.R. when you’re missing Melo is a bit like crashing your car, then hitching a ride home on a carriage driven by rabid jackals: It’s exciting as hell and surprisingly functional, but the journey’s rife with detours and when the dogs start drooling, you’re in trouble. You know?”
Barbara Barker of Newsday on Westbrook: “Russell Westbrook hasn’t quite gotten the message that he is a superstar. Unlike the rest of his NBA brethren, he still talks to reporters in the locker room before big games, and he still earnestly rattles off cliches about needing to improve. Make no mistake: Westbrook is a big-time player, one whom the Knicks were challenged to find an answer for in Thursday night’s 95-94 loss to the Thunder.”
Tom Ziller of SB Nation on the Nuggets: “Should the Nuggets make it to the second round, what will it take to spook the Spurs or Thunder (assuming those teams advance)? Better defense. Much better defense. The West’s two best teams feature two of the league’s best offenses. Denver’s defense is middle of the pack, despite the presence of some really good defenders, including the elite Andre Iguodala. In particular, Lawson will need to slow Tony Parker or Russell Westbrook, which pretty much no one in the NBA can successfully do on a regular basis. The defenses of OKC and S.A. are quite good, too, so Denver can’t bet on being terribly efficient on that end.”
Chris Mannix of SI.com: “That’s fine with Durant, who only wants another shot at beating James where it matters most. It has been a long eight months since the Thunder watched Miami celebrate a championship, an interminable stretch broken up by highs (an Olympic gold medal) and lows (two regular-season losses to the Heat). Getting back to the Finals won’t be easy, not with San Antonio, Memphis and the Clippers standing in the way. Durant and Westbrook have logged heavy minutes this season, and will have to take on more when the playoffs start. Yet throughout the Thunder locker room, the sentiment is the same: Let’s get to it.”