Thunder 95, Knicks 94 Notes

statWell, that was interesting. The Knicks lost to the Thunder 95-94, on a night where myself and the vast majority of others thought they would get clobbered. Without Carmelo Anthony, sidelined by death a sore knee, it looked like the Knicks would  need a big night from their normally supporting role players. JR Smith answered the bell (Loudly, at that. I think he might have broken the bell.) scoring 36 points on 14-29 shooting, including 6-13 from three-point land. After the Knicks fell behind 35-26 at the end of the first quarter, Earl erupted for 18 points in the second, and helped close the Thunder lead to 59-56. The Knicks must have kept JR in an incubator during the break, because he didn’t cool off in the third quarter, adding in 13 more and helping the Knicks get a 6 point lead going into the 4th quarter. The Knicks should have left the court and refused to come back on after that, trying to get the refs to call the game early. Anyway, that didn’t happen, and the Knicks couldn’t hold on to their lead, losing by one. The fourth quarter featured some interesting lineup choices and play calls from Mike Woodson, some shaky calls from the refs, and some expletives shouted by me. Down one with 38 seconds left, the Woodson drew up a creative play to get JR Smith a fairly open three pointer which he missed. On the ensuing possession, Kevin Durant missed a mid range jumper and the Knicks had the ball with seven seconds left and still down one. JR got the ball on the wing, dribbled a bit, and missed a turnaround jumper over Russell Westbrook as time expired. Poop. Some notes:

  • The Knicks kept the worst starting lineup in the league intact, once again starting James White and Kurt Thomas. This time, however, Flight knocked down 2-3 three pointers, and we all knew something weird was happening. Kurt played 5 minutes, White logged 12, and lets never speak of this again.
  • The Knicks starting guards, Ray Felton and Iman Shumpert, didn’t play *much* better either. Shumpert was 0-4 from three and 1-7 overall, and Felton added a 1-8 from deep and 6-16 overall. Felton had a couple nice drives off the pick and roll, but had only 3 assists as opposed to 4 turnovers. He had an especially bad turnover late in the game when he went to split the trap and lost the handle. Over the past two games, out favorite bulldog has 11 turnovers, and his handle has looked really bad.
  • In the first half, Woodson kept Amar’e's minutes down to 11 so he could save him for the second half. This was STAT’s least efficient game going 5-16 from the field, as Serge Ibaka gave him some problems in the post. Amar’e did yam one on Ibaka, and he absolutely destroyed a Derek Fisher layup attempt. Related: Derek Fisher evaporated. Interestingly, Amar’e's defense was much better than it normally is, and he was a menace on the offensive glass, coming up with 6 offensive boards.
  • As I mentioned earlier, JR Smith kept the Knicks in this game during the 2nd and 3rd quarters. He asked everyone on the Thunder if they were tryin’ to get the pipe, and apparently they said yes. Poor Thabo Sefolosha got cooked really badly on a couple of step back jumpers, and there wasn’t much he could do when JR was hitting 3s off the bounce.
  • I hate Reggie Miller. He needs to talk less.
  • Kenyon Martin played 17 minutes, and eventually fouled out. He worked hard against Kevin Durant and did a solid job slowing him down in the second quarter. His ability to shove people on the perimeter and not get called is pretty cool.
  • Kevin Durant was 14-15 from the free throw line. The Knicks were 14-14 from the line. Yeesh, refs.

We’ll end this recap with the fourth quarter, as Mike Woodson’s decisions are the talk of the internet and radio right now. Woodson made some strange lineup choices in the 4th, going with the same type of four guard lineup he went with against the Pistons late. Felton-Kidd-Shumpert-Smith-Chandler was out there for the first six minutes or so of the 4th, with Stoudemire on the bench. This lineup had JR guarding Durant, which caused some problems for the Knicks. Then, with six minutes left, Woodson brought on Stoudemire for Chandler. This was a tough position for Woodson. The Thunder were going small with Durant at the 4, and he didn’t want to play two conventional big men because one of them would have to guard Durant. Personally, I would have put Amar’e on for Kidd or Shumpert, and tried to hide Amar’e on Sefolosha. However, this wasn’t the biggest issue of the night.

Many Knicks fans are up in arms over the final play the Knicks ran, which was a wing isolation for JR Smith. It’s worth mentioning that the play before this one was very creative and yielded an open catch-and-shoot 3 that JR missed. However, on the final shot, the Knicks inbounded the ball to Smith on the wing at the 3pt line with seven seconds left. Smith was guarded by Westbrook, and took a bad turn around jumper. I may be in the minority here, but I don’t have a big problem with that play call. Woodson said he wanted JR to go to the basket, and so did I, but there was no reason to expect it. By calling the isolation, you’re assuming the risk that JR is going to shoot a tough jumper. And, again, I’m not all that angry at the call. I would have rather the Knicks gone to Amar’e, but getting him a post up opportunity with seven seconds was unlikely, and he would have had to take the ball at the elbow and score. That’s probably a better option than having JR take the shot he took, but Amar’e hasn’t played much outside of the post since coming back, and his jumper wasn’t falling last night either.

We often associate the term “iso” to a bad play call, but the fact of the matter is that we shouldn’t. Not all isos are the same, and they’re not nearly as bad as we make them out to be. Ideally, the Knicks should have gotten JR the ball at the top of the arc or already on the move and with some distracting action being run around him to soften up the help defense. This is all to say that what Woodson did late in the game wasn’t the worst thing in the world, and although it was pretty clear to everyone that he was going to call an isolation for JR, the Thunder didn’t double or deny JR the ball and particularly take advantage of the call. This is also to say that it’s a real shame that JR didn’t make that shot, because had he, “Pipe Night” was going to be added to the promotional giveaway nights at MSG. Ok, maybe not.