Oklahoma City Thunder – Kevin Durant Shines Without Duel Rival

The first visit for the Oklahoma City Thunder in New York since 2010 wasn’t about the duel between Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony because of an injury keeping the Knicks’ star out of the game, and possibly giving the visiting team a hard-earned road win.

It came down to J.R. Smith, who did a great job in Anthony’s absence (second straight game), scoring 36 points. Smith halted in the fourth quarter, going only 2-9 from the field, and missing the jumper that could have won the game for the Knicks. He later admitted that he should have tried to drive to the basket instead of taking the contested jumper. The Thunder came away with a 95-94 win, improving to 45-16, putting them 2.5 games behind the Spurs in the race for the top spot in the West.

We’ve been hurt on those game-winners a couple of times this year and we didn’t want that to happen again. So we just had to lock in and get a stop. In the fourth quarter, we just tried to come out and play lockdown defense, and I think that’s what we did.

The Oklahoma City Thunder continue to win thanks to incredible individual ability – Kevin Durant scored 34 points but turned the ball over 7 times, and Russell Westbrook, on another bad shooting night (8-22), scoring 21 points; and great fourth quarter defense, keeping the Knicks on 13 points, while Serge Ibaka made it a horrible night for Amare Stoudemire and anyone else trying to score in the paint.

Stoudemire had one of his worst games since coming back from his injury with 16 points on 5-16 from the field. Ibaka scored 12 points, but added 5 blocks and changed countless shots, limiting the Knicks to only 30 points in the paint, while they struggled to connect from beyond the arc as well, hitting only 32.3% of their shots. If you take out Smith’s 6-13, the Knicks were only 4-18 (22.2%) from beyond the arc, mostly due to a horrific shooting night from Raymond Felton, continuing his terrible form, making only 1-8 from three.

And the Thunder? They showed grit, toughness, but not the type of basketball on offense that makes you think they can beat the Miami Heat in a few months time, if the two meet again in a Finals series. For all of the talk on the way Russell Westbrook plays, the Thunder continue to be a team with hardly a set play or something that isn’t an iso, improvisation or a simple screen and jump/penetration by Durant or Westbrook.

Talent takes you places, but not all the way, and there’s a reason the Heat are now projected to win it all. Not just the winning streak, but also the way the Thunder and some of the Western rivals are playing. The Thunder didn’t show they’ve figured out Miami during the regular season, and they haven’t shown anything but Durant simply becoming a better scorer and Ibaka giving more offense than in the past. That’s good enough, probably, to win the West, but not beat the LeBron James & friends company, not at the moment.

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