Sporting “Nueva York” jerseys but lacking Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks took on the Oklahoma City Thunder last night at the Garden. Despite the absence of their superstar, the Knicks fought hard against one of the best teams in the NBA but ultimately fell short. J.R. Smith did his best Carmelo impression and scored 36 points, but went cold late as the Knicks lost by one. Smith has come up big with last second shots for New York this season, borrowing Victor Cruz’ salsa dance celebration along the way, but the Thunder surely knew that he would look to take the last shot, and defended him well on the final play. Smith was unable to get a good look and his would-be game winner clanked off of the rim, dropping the Knicks to 8 games back of the East leading Heat, and only ahead of third placed Indiana by a game in the loss column. There was to be no salsa for J.R. and the MSG crowd last night.
A big game at Madison Square Garden usually brings out the best in opposing star players, and Kevin Durant did not let the Thunder faithful down, pouring in 34 points and knocking down some huge free throws in the final minutes of the fourth quarter that kept the Thunder in front. With the regular season winding down, it looks almost impossible that the Knicks will catch Miami for the top seed in the conference, but there are still some positives to take away from last night’s game. J.R. Smith showed he can deliver points when Carmelo Anthony is not running the show for New York, and Amar’e Stoudemire had another strong performance, with 16 points and 8 boards in 29 minutes. New Knick signing Kenyon Martin also contributed off the bench, and coach Mike Woodson will hope he can keep it going and help the team stay fresh for the postseason. Raymond Felton was woeful from downtown (1 for 8) but was much more successful when he drove to the basket, finishing above 50% shooting from two-point land.
Despite these positives, it was still a tough blow for the Knicks, who will need all the wins they can get to hold off the charging Pacers for the number two seed. Important players stepped up without Anthony, but success or failure this season for New York will ultimately hinge on him. The team has now hung almost the whole way with the Heat and Thunder in their last two losses, only to fall flat in the fourth quarter. If the Knicks want to turn their championship dream into reality this June, they will need to find a way to come up with those crucial buckets at the end of tight games.