Observations from the Thunder’s victory over the New York Knicks on Thursday night inside Madison Square Garden:
- Thursday’s victory completes four straight games against quality teams, three of which are bound for the playoffs and another that should be. OKC finished with a 3-1 record against these teams, which is more than acceptable.
- The Thunder’s victories came on two of the biggest stages in the world – Staples Center and Madison Square Garden against the Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks, respectively. The other victory came at home against the underachieving, but undeniably talented, Los Angeles Lakers. The lone loss was at Pepsi Center, where the Denver Nuggets own a 27-3 record, tied with the world champion Miami Heat for the best home mark in the NBA.
- Had Denver’s Ty Lawson not drained a 20-footer with 0.2 seconds left, the Thunder might have been able to win in overtime and made it a clean four-game sweep. Had that transpired, OKC (45-16) would be riding a seven-game winning streak. Instead, winning six of its last seven will have to do.
- Despite having the third best record in the league and the largest point differential of any team, complaints continue to roll in that OKC doesn’t have what it takes to become NBA champion, not even in the eyes of many of its own fans. While narrow-minded criticism continually rains down upon pretty much everyone playing (and coaching) the Thunder, the team continues to win roughly three of every four games it plays (a .738 winning percentage). TNT analyst Charles Barkley continues to chime in on this subject, not that Kevin Durant is listening.
- As predicted, San Antonio hasn’t slid one inch and is riding a three-game winning streak despite losing All-Star point guard and MVP candidate Tony Parker.
- A bit of good news came in Durant having that ridiculous technical foul from Tuesday night was rescinded. I’m curious how many technicals complements of referee Joey Crawford have been rescinded. (No way will the NBA share that stat.)
- Upon entering Madison Square Garden for Thursday’s morning shoot-around, the first security guard I saw immediately asked me about the James Harden trade.
Security: “How could you guys not sign him?”
Me: “Couldn’t afford to. No cap space and tax penalties would have been too severe.”
Security: “Man, everybody has to pay taxes.”
Me: “Sign Harden and it would have been about $15 million in salary and potentially $10 million in taxes. You think Harden indirectly is worth $25 million when Kevin Durant is making less than $17 million?”
Security: “No, but you still should have signed him, man.”
Me: “That’s the problem when you have several players turn out to be great with contracts only a year apart.”
Security: “The Knicks would have paid it.”
Me: “I don’t doubt it.”
- As impatient as Thunder fans are becoming, they’re still light years away from New York fans. As Knicks fans exited in a stairwell on Thursday night, at least a dozen screamed – and I do mean screamed – J.R. Smith’s name in vain for missing a potential game-winning shot with 1.7 seconds left. “None of this would have happened if we had Melo tonight,” several contended. Perhaps not, but with Melo (sore knee) playing, no way would Smith have poured in 36 points or been able to take 29 shots.
- Without Smith going off Thursday, the Knicks probably would have lost by 20. Take away Smith’s 14 for 29 from the field and 6 for 13 from 3-point range and the Knicks were 21 for 57 (.368) from the field and 4 for 18 (.222) from 3-point range.
- Sure was good for the Thunder to have Kevin Martin rediscover his shooting touch (4 for 6 field goals; 3 for 5 on 3s) . Life sure gets easier for Durant and Westbrook when there’s a third scorer – which is why Ibaka and Martin need to try and be less shy about shooting. Martin also pulled down some key rebounds and had two steals.
- Second-year reserve Reggie Jackson has oozed more and more confidence lately, particularly on Thursday, when he went 2 for 2 on 3-pointers and 3 for 5 overall.
- It doesn’t look like there’s a race between Jackson and Derek Fisher for backup point guard, seeing how much they played together against the Knicks. Go ahead and rip Fisher’s shooting (0 for 4) if you like, but OKC was plus-7 when he was in the game. Jackson and Nick Collison were both plus-8, the highest total for the Thunder.
- Meanwhile, power forward Serge Ibaka was terrific with 12 points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots, but the team was minus-10 with him on the court. Westbrook was minus-7 and Martin was minus-5. Go figure. This is why general manager Sam Presti looks at the plus-minus over a span of two seasons or so. No, I’m not kidding.
- Centers were an endangered species for the Thunder on Thursday. Kendrick Perkins played 20 minutes, Nick Collison played 10 and Hasheem Thabeet played as much as you and I (zero).
- The Garden looks beautiful, but then again it should after roughly $1 billion in renovations.
- This was OKC’s first game at MSG since Dec. 22, 2010. The teams didn’t meet in NYC last year because of the lockout-shortened 66-game season.
- Just out of curiosity, I wish coach Scott Brooks would have let former Knicks guard Ronnie Brewer defend Smith when he caught fire. What harm would it do? Who knows, Brewer might have actually cooled off Smith.“I enjoyed it,” Brewer said of his time with the Knicks, “especially when I was playing.”
- Durant’s reaction to the Thunder finishing with just two turnovers against the Lakers on Tuesday, which tied an NBA record for fewest in a game: “It seemed like we had more than two turnovers. Maybe it was some bad shots I took that looked like turnovers.”
- Durant said he really doesn’t like the way he’s played lately. Doesn’t like the way he’s shooting, even though he’s alive and well in the 50-40-90 quest. Doesn’t like his decision-making. That’s why Durant gets so much respect. He’s never satisfied.
- Not sure who’s worse at forecasting snow – weathermen from NYC or OKC.
- Five-to-eight inches of snow were projected for New York City with the arrival of Winter Storm Saturn. Total inch count leaving MSG at 2:15 a.m. was 0.0. However, the white stuff finally arrived a few hours later. I left LaGuardia at 5:50 a.m. and most flights were cancelled. The only departures were from planes that were already at the airport.
- Next up for the Thunder is Charlotte at 6 p.m. today. After that, OKC gets Saturday off, will host Boston at noon on Sunday on ABC, and will travel to San Antonio on Monday for a huge 7:30 p.m. contest.
- John Rohde