What appeared to be a lopsided victory turned into a nail-biter, but the Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t complain.
Wins have been rare this season for the Thunder, so they wanted to celebrate after holding off the New York Knicks 107-99 on Tuesday night—after nearly blowing a 23-point, second-half lead.
“We showed a lot of character,” said Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant, who had 27 points and 12 rebounds. “They came back and got within two but we continued to work hard and kept our composure and fought on the defensive end and got some key scores.”
Jeff Green added 27 points for Oklahoma City (5-30), which shot 52.7 percent from the field and won for the second time in three games. The loss came on a 3-pointer by Denver’s Carmelo Anthony with 0.1 seconds left.
The crowd at the Ford Center, nearly silent after the loss to the Nuggets, cheered loudly as Thunder players and coaches exited the floor after beating the Knicks.
“This is why I, the fans and the city love this team,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “They never give up. Tonight we battled and fought hard and closed out tonight’s game in the fourth quarter.”
Al Harrington scored 21 points and Chris Duhon added 18 for the Knicks (13-20), who were coming off a victory over defending NBA champion Boston. New York, which beat the Thunder by 10 points on Nov. 14, shot 39.8 percent.
Russell Westbrook added 22 points and nine assists for Oklahoma City. David Lee had 14 points and 13 rebounds for the Knicks, his 20th double-double in the last 22 games and his 23rd of the season.
“We dug ourselves a hole and tried to climb our way out of it and just came up short,” Harrington said. “No disrespect to those guys, but we were supposed to win this game.”
The Knicks, playing the first of a four-game swing against Western Conference foes, trailed by as many as 23 points in the third quarter but rallied within 93-91 with 8:21 left on two free throws by Wilson Chandler.
Oklahoma City turned to its leading scorer, Durant, who hit two free throws, then followed with a driving bucket. Joe Smith’s 14-foot jumper with 6:03 left put the Thunder up 99-91.
Nate Robinson’s two free throws cut the gap to 102-99 with 1:01 left, but Westbrook assisted Desmond Mason on a reverse layup with 41 seconds left.
The Knicks missed three 3-point attempts after that, with Durant hitting two free throws and Westbrook going 1-of-2 from the line in the final 29 seconds.
“If you keep fighting, good things will happen … and we did that tonight,” Brooks said.
New York coach Mike D’Antoni said the Knicks didn’t play with the same intensity in the first half that allowed them to beat the Celtics 100-88 on Sunday.
“It’s a learning process, learning how to win two, four or 10 games in a row,” D’Antoni said. “It’s having that mentality that nothing else matters for the next two hours.”
Mason had 13 points and three blocked shots, while Smith—returning after missing three games with a left knee contusion—blocked four shots. The Knicks had no blocked shots.
Mason scored seven points and Green added two 3-pointers during a 22-4 run in the first quarter that put Oklahoma City ahead 29-15.
“That was about as well as we could play on both ends of the court,” Brooks said.
The Knicks closed within four points twice in the second quarter, but the Thunder rebuilt their lead to 63-50 by halftime.
The Thunder posted their second-highest scoring first half of the season, one point shy of what they scored in the 122-120 loss to Denver on Friday. Durant and Westbrook each had 17 points in the half.
The Knicks missed their first eight shots of the second half as Oklahoma City built its lead to 79-56, its largest of the season. After a fast-break layup by Durant put the Thunder ahead 83-62, a frustrated D’Antoni called his first timeout of the game.
The Knicks responded, as three 3-pointers by Harrington keyed a 17-8 run that pulled New York within 91-79 entering the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t have the intensity in the first half,” D’Antoni said. “You have to play as hard as we did in the second half. I was really glad that we responded and made a game of it, but when that happens, you have to have everything go right for you right down to the end. We didn’t have everything go right for us and we lost.”