Giving up 125 points? Bad. Allowing at least 29 points in all four quarters? Bad. Giving up 19 offensive rebounds? Bad. Allowing 15 3-pointers? Bad. Getting outscored 15-9 after taking a one-point lead with four minutes left, at home? Really bad.
But you know what, it’s really not that bad of a loss, honestly. (That is, unless you’re one of those people that lives and dies game to game over an 82-game schedule.)
Here’s the quick and dirty of it: The Thunder lost a great, fun game. They had their chances to win it and failed to finish. The Knicks hit some very big shots — most notably, that J.R. Smith miracle with 56 seconds left — and the Thunder couldn’t keep up. The Knicks executed their gameplan to near perfection, getting a massive game from Carmelo Anthony, getting a non-idiotic scoring night from J.R. Smith, by hitting 15-of-34 from 3 and by crushing the offensive glass. The Knicks played the way they dream of playing, and the Thunder couldn’t ever find an answer to it.
“They’re the hottest team in the league right now,” said Scott Brooks. “And their 3-point shooting, you’re not going to see that often, 15 makes. The thing that was concerning tonight, you’re going to have some shooting nights like that against us, but we just gave up too many offensive rebounds. When we did make them miss, they got 19 offensive rebounds and 23 putback points. That’s not good.”
Yep, that’s pretty much the game in a nutshell right there.
But despite all that, the Thunder led with four minutes left. What happened from there? Here’s the play-by-play:
- 3:42: Tyson Chandler finishes a layup set up by Raymond Felton (112-111)
- 3:24: Chandler blocks a Russell Westbrook jumper
- 3:05: Melo misses a layup, gets it back and tips it in (114-111)
- 2:48: Kevin Durant forces an off-balance running jumper, and misses
- 2:25: Jason Kidd misses a deep 3, gets his own rebound and eventually Felton draws a foul, hitting one of two from the line (115-111)
- 1:54: Westbrook drops a 15-foot jumper (115-113)
- 1:30: Smith hits a really, really tough contested step-back 22-foot jumper (117-113)
- 1:21: Westbrook has a 3 rattle all the way in and then out
- 0:56: Felton loses the handle in the paint but is able to tap the ball out to Smith who drills a 28-foot 3 as the shot clock expired (120-113)
And it was basically game over right there.
For whatever reason, the focus always seems to fall on the Thunder’s crunchtime offense when they lose, but come on, that didn’t have much to do with this. What got them beat was an inability to get a stop, a lucky J.R. Smith 3, and the pathetic job done on the defensive boards.
For example, Bill Simmons said this on ABC’s postmortem of the game, via Anthony Slater: “I have real concerns about this team … (OKC)’s just one-on-one stuff. I don’t like the way they’re playing.”
Now, yes, Westbrook’s jumper was the only points the Thunder got between 3:42 and 0:56 when Smith hit the 3. But again, look at how all that went down. How did the Knicks score? Not off some pure basketball movement with glorious spacing and execution. They tipped in misses, they hit long jumpers, they scored off scramble plays.
To their fault, the Thunder relied too heavily on Westbrook and Durant in isolation, absolutely. But news flash: THAT’S THE THUNDER. That’s who they were last season, that’s who they are this season. There have been glimpses of an expanded crunchtime offense and when it shows, it’s terrific. The way OKC finished the Spurs on Thursday featured some quality shots, but most importantly, stops and rebounds.
Allow me to implore for a moment: If you’re reading into this game and using it to build concern or worry, chill. If I had told you last Wednesday that in a four-day span, the Thunder would go 2-1 against the Spurs, Pacers and Knicks, you’d say pretty good, right? Three of the best teams in the league in a little more than a 72-hour span. The Thunder beat San Antonio by 12, destroyed the Pacers on the road by 22, and then lost a shootout by five today. I say that’s not bad.
“Of course it’s good to go 2-1 against really good teams, but we wanted to win them all,” Durant said. “It’s unfortunate, but we ran up against a team playing well, they’re were hot and they’ve got a lot of confidence. It is what it is man. We’ve just got to keep moving forward.”
Like KD said, no doubt winning was the priority. But look at it this way: Let’s say OKC goes 2-1 but lost in Indiana and won today — does that change your perspective? This was a great, exciting offensive game. The Thunder stormed back and had a very good chance to win it. They didn’t close well on the offensive end, and they were really bad on the boards and defensively. But credit the Knicks here, peeps. They’re pretty good, too.
KD actually summed up what I just blathered on about pretty succinctly:
“We’re good,” he said. “We’re good. Five more games to go. We lost a tough one, that team shot the ball well tonight. Hit some tough shots all night. We forced them to shoot some tough ones and they hit them. Tip your hat to them. Other than that, what’s the need to panic for? We’re good.”
Pretty much, yep.
- There was a lot of chatter postgame about supposed “passiveness” with KD. Good grief, really? If you’re dumb enough to only look at one part of a box score, then yeah, I guess I can see how you’d draw that conclusion. Durant took 17 shot attempts, but attempted FIFTEEN FREE THROWS. That’s like, the definition of aggressive. When you’re getting to the line, it means you’re attacking and being aggressive. The final five minutes, Durant took three shots, missing all of them. Problem with them wasn’t him being passive — it was that he actually forced those.
- Durant: “Every time I caught the ball it was a double-team. I know you guys like me to shoot a lot, but I can’t shoot over three people or two people sometimes, and I trust my teammates. All night they were doubling the post so I just tried to trust the pass. We made a few, missed a few. But I’m going to continue to trust my teammates and I believe in them a hundred percent.”
- You know what, KD was actually too assertive at one point and took a really bad shot. That 3 with six minutes left and OKC up one wasn’t a wise shot.
- The critique I have of this game for KD doesn’t have to do with his offense whatsoever. I thought KD played a nicely rounded offensive game — 7-17, 27 points, seven assists. The issue with his line is the three rebounds. OKC clearly was having difficulty on the glass and desperately needed KD to bail them out some.
- Let’s talk about OKC’s crunchtime lineup. I think Scott Brooks erred here. With 6:35 left, he put Westbrook in for Derek Fisher, breaking out the effective crunchtime lineup of Westbrook, Jackson, Martin, Durant and Collison. Then for some reason, with the game tied after a Jackson layup, Brooks subbed Thabo for Martin. Obviously trying to go with a more defensive lineup to finish, but the problem there was that the Thunder’s solid spacing disappeared. Martin was really good off the dribble today so him being available to put the ball on the floor after kickout was a good option. And Martin wasn’t a liability on the other end at all. Put him on Kidd and forget about it.
- I asked Martin postgame how he felt about sitting those last five minutes: “The situation is what it is, but I just want to focus on coming out and playing the right way and whatever happens, happens.”
- My instinct says he wasn’t psyched about it.
- This was one of Martin’s best games of the season, I thought. He had just 15 points on 5-7 shooting in 24 minutes. But he was a major lift in the first half, and hit a couple shots in the second half, picking spots well. He was selective, yet assertive. Great game.
- Reginald Jackson. What a second half performance. Put a beard on him and make him left-handed and he was you-know-who in that fourth quarter. He abused Felton in the pick-and-roll, swiftly attacking the rim. He was terrific. Plain terrific. More, more, more, please.
- At four different times, I pondered who the best player on the floor was for OKC. Early on, it was Serge Ibaka. Then it was Durant. Then it was Westbrook. Then it was Jackson. That’s a good sign.
- The Knicks sort of Miami’d the Thunder today. They went super small a number of times and forced Brooks to adjust and adapt. Here’s the thing though: He did! Brooks never really stubbornly stayed with two bigs in the fourth quarter. The starters played a really solid third, sparking the comeback, and that was mostly the last of two bigs for OKC.
- Really, when you think about it, the Knicks are sort of a poor man’s Heat, at least in their style. Melo is the focus, then they try and spread you out with shooters. It’s tough to guard when it’s working.
- Westbrook is just spectacular. His performance today was stunning. A game-high 37 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, to only one turnover. His last four games: 27.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, 8.4 assists and just 2.7 turnovers. Yo.
- There was the annoying noise after this one that the Thunder wouldn’t have lost today with Harden. This nonsense really has to stop. Now, while I agree the Thunder probably would’ve won a game or three more this season with Harden, it’s becoming a common theme after EVERY loss that someone says, “See, this is where Harden makes a difference.” Apparently, the Thunder would be 77-0 right now with James Harden.
- Raise your hand if you couldn’t help but think about the rescinded Chandler trade all freaking day long. I have both hands up.
- Carmelo attempted only two free throws all day, and they came with under a minute left. Durant attempted 15. Melo scored 36 on 29 shots, Durant 27 on 17. Melo didn’t have an assist, Durant had seven. I just found that so, so appropriate.
- The first seven minutes of the game, Melo put up seven shots to KD’s zero. KD didn’t take his first shot until the second quarter. Melo wants that scoring title. I think KD proved it today that he might actually be indifferent.
- Durant checked Melo most of the second half, but Ibaka got the assignment early. And really did a decent job, surprisingly.
- This miiiiiight’ve been a decent game to try Ronnie Brewer out. I’m actually not sure he even exists at this point.
- KD’s mom was at the game today. “It’s always good to have mom and grandma here to support me. I’m happy they’re here and they’ll be back for the playoffs.”
- Is there a better big in isolation against a little guy than Perk? Seriously. He does a tremendous job every time on that switch.
- End of the first quarter, Fisher caught the ball on the wing WIDE OPEN with nine seconds left. I guess in an effort to not make the same mistake he made against the Spurs, he turned down the shot, holding the ball until there was one on the clock to hoist a super contested jumper over Chandler.
- Nick Collison might need a blood transfusion by the end of this season. Let’s start a blood drive for him. His face is going to look like Jared Leto’s after Edward Norton pounded it in Fight Club. He took a big whack to the face from Chandler, then got a bloody nose in the fourth.
- Really enjoyed sitting next to some New York writers that just completely fawned over Westbrook’s athleticism and speed. It’s something I often take for granted, getting to see Westbrook speed up the court and assault the rim in a blur. But they were blown away by some of the stuff Russ was doing. Served as a nice little reminder that Westbrook is some kind of a special athlete.
- Pablo Prigioni’s face is just HUGE.
- Westbrook got hit in the face, or at least acted like he did, 40 times today.
- Westbrook showed a little of that patented fury last in the first. After a coast-to-coast missed layup, he was a little late getting back and apparently someone on the bench said something because Westbrook yelled something unfriendly as he got back. Then after a timeout was called, he wasn’t receptive to any high fives as he stomped his way back to the bench.
- Pregame, Scott Brooks talked about the Thunder’s recent good defense and this was incredibly prophetic: “Our philosophy through the season is just to be solid, and then have moments where it’s special. We’ve been top three defensively throughout the year, so there’s not been a lot of bad moments. There’s going to be some bad games, when you have 82 of them, you can’t play at the level everybody wants you to play at and that we want to play at. But you want to be solid as much as you can and have special moments.”
- Melo took over the scoring lead today, averaging 28.41 to Durant’s 28.35.
Next up: Tuesday at Utah.