Strange night of basketball, buddies. The Knicks built a big lead with wildly hot three-point shooting. The Thunder, sans Kevin Durant, kept the game competitive by either deferring to Russell Westbrook or tipping in his many misses. A blizzard of threes from the likes of Lance Thomas and Derrick Williams -- "wildly" was the operative word above -- built the New York advantage up to 16 by the midpoint of the fourth quarter, but then the Knicks did what they've been doing. Tight possessions begot tough shots, Robin Lopez coughed up some basketballs, and the Thunder got enough free throws and buckets to fall juuuust short of tying the game at the last second. Like our friend Glen Sather's Cigar Case said, it was scary close -- a matter of seconds and millimeters in a game that once looked like a blowout.
Look at it one way, and the Knicks made life way too hard on themselves. Look at it another way, and the Knicks basically went home with 5 minutes left in the game but survived in a tough building anyway. No matter your perspective, it's a win, and a win is most excellent to start a four-game, six-day road trip. Some notes, quickly:
- New York's bench shot 6-10 from downtown, and that's including Lance Thomas refusing to burn clock at the end of the third quarter, just heaving and burying a three pointer because time is for nerds. That is an anomaly. HOWEVER, the Knicks generated a lot of solid, sustainable looks from outside as well. Jose Calderon ran himself a lovely, simple high pick-and-roll to feed like half a dozen open elbow threes. And hit two himself!
- OKC's 21 offensive rebounds is so, so many offensive rebounds -- they attempted 92 shots to the Knicks' 72. Russell Westbrook shot 11-29. These things are related! Robin Lopez, playing a season-high 33 minutes, did a noble job of goalkeeping in conjunction with slow but deliberate shepherding by New York's guards. The Knicks formed a nice little bubble around most Westbrook penetration, granting him a step or two below the arc, but not enough space to get clean looks at the rim.
Lots of bricked threes, a decent number of wayward mid-range shots, and enough misses at the rim. That's the product of a focused, coordinated effort.
... and it produced a heap of easy tip-ins, because it's very hard to thwart Russ *and* collect his waste. Lopez, Porzingis, and the bench bigs often found themselves buried under the crashing Westbrook, which left bunnies aplenty for Steven Adams and Enes Kanter.
- Kristaps Porzingis opened the game with a three, then drew a foul on an impressive blow-by past Serge Ibaka, but didn't do much else but hang out and turn the ball over the rest of the night. He had at least one very good rebound, but didn't see the ball much otherwise. Looked a little out of sorts.
- Langston Galloway was similarly quiet, but managed to make a lot of impact really fast with one sudden and deadly three, what felt like 39 steals (5 in 20 minutes!!), and a couple pretty yucky turnovers.
- Derek Fisher not only played 12 deep, but went with the full line change toward the end of the first quarter, checking Galloway, Sasha Vujacic, Thomas, Derrick Williams, and Kevin Seraphin into the game all at once. Kyle O'Quinn and Jerian Grant both got to spin as well. I expected those gentlemen to undo the Knicks' tidy first-quarter work, but they held their own, in part because Billy Donovan played his whole bench at once as well.
- Carmelo Anthony started forcing and missing, then got very hot for a while, then closed the game forcing and missing (including 2 free throws, but excepting New York's only basket in the last 3 and a half minutes). He still played a solid game overall, with some productive help defense, decent enough shooting (9-20), and some fuel in those knees:
Also, this is now the third time I've seen Melo get upset because a ref blew a whistle too close to his face:
BLOW THE WHISTLE https://t.co/wFRE9hhrGH— Lang Whitaker (@langwhitaker) November 21, 2015
- Andre Roberson played mostly competent defense against Melo. On the other end, he played one of the more timid games I've seen in a while. Roberson's decision to swallow a wide-open three and let an OKC possession waste away sapped a bit of the Thunder's late momentum, and then he did it again later. Westbrook put a ton of work into setting up plays like that, and I'm impressed he didn't flip out and kick a teammate this evening.
- Jerian Grant hit a three-pointer.
- I swear Lance Thomas travels sometimes without actually lifting or even turning his feet. He just slides sometimes with no apparent momentum. His soles might have tiny wheels that engage when he leans forward, like the bottom of a treadmill.
- Lance is 8-17 from three on the season. I have no idea what to make of this.
- Wanna see some weird shit?
Cool Guy Steven Adams helped Robin Lopez up then gave him an open layup https://t.co/xjGyFjReER— Seth Rosenthal (@seth_rosenthal) November 21, 2015
Lopez got blocked. Lopez dove on the rebound. Lopez managed to get the ball to Jerian Grant in the corner. Lopez got up, and appeared to get a hand up from Adams. Lopez walked over to the rim and received a pass without Adams bothering to follow him there. Lopez got an and-one. I don't know why any of that happened!
- Lopez's three last-minute turnovers, by the way:
1. Receives a nice out-of-help pass from Melo. Doesn't notice Porzingis cutting on the weak-side baseline, pump fakes, travels.
2. Catches ball at the elbow, gets ambushed by Westbrook, surrenders ball.
3. Inbounds ball after made basket, gets overexcited even though the Knicks have multiple timeouts, forces a pass to Calderon, who is blanketed by Serge Ibaka, and just watches it sail out of bounds.
All bad! Robin's defense and rebounding are a boon at any time, but it's frightening when the ball's in his hands down the stretch. To be fair, that's true of most every Knick, especially around the high post with help arriving.
- I just wanna reiterate that Lang had 5 steals in 20 minutes. He didn't always guard Westbrook, but even when he didn't, he dogged Russ from afar and poached all his passing lanes.
- Quietly, Lance Thomas can dunk very high and very hard.
- Arron Afflalo still isn't getting all the lift he wants out of his shootin' legs, but man ... every other time he attempts, that dude will just go find you a bucket.
Rockets up next. They're struggling, but they might be due for that New Coach Bump, but they definitely haven't gotten it yet. For now, the Knicks are above .500 and life is good. Weird but good.