Without Carmelo Anthony (sore right knee), the Knicks hung around with their strong defense and smart offense, moving well without the basketball and taking good shots in the flow of things. While the Thunder were too much handle to offensively -- four players finished in double-figure scoring -- J.R. Smith was unconscious in the first half. He scored a team-high 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting from the field and he had a big steal on Kevin Durant (13 points) to prevent him from taking a shot with seconds remaining.
Here are five main observations from the first half:
1. How about some transition defense? While Russell Westbrook is arguably the best player in the NBA in the open court, the Knicks shouldn't have allowed the All-Star point guard to score 15 points in the first quarter. The Thunder had 10 fast break points, most coming from Westbrook's athletic, gliding drives and his trademark pull-up jump shot. With the Knicks trailing behind on defense, they were forced to foul and the Thunder shot twice as many free throws (10-for-12) than the Knicks (6-for-6) in the opening period.
2. Felton and Smith on the attack: During stretches this season, Smith and Raymond Felton, the Knicks' two best guard penetrators, have relied on too much outside shooting, and their efficiency levels were low. But since Mike Woodson called for guys to attack the paint more last week, Smith and Felton have done that. In the first half tonight, Felton had 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting -- two off layups -- and Smith scored most of his points off the dribble closer to the basket. Smith worked off down screens and pick-and-rolls well tonight, looking to attack quickly, and he was crafty and relentless driving to the hoop.
3. White with, wait, two 3-pointers? That's right. James White, who started for the fifth straight game, tied his season-high with two long balls -- and they both came in the first quarter. Without Anthony, the Knicks desperately needed some earlier offense.
4. K-Mart makes an impact: In his most time since signing with the Knicks -- he played 13 minutes -- he D'ed up Kevin Durant and ran the court well, finishing an alley-opp from Smith. They played together in Denver, so that chemistry reemerged.
5. Precise passing: Late in the second quarter, Steve Novak and then Smith had careless passes. Overall, the Knicks had eight turnovers in the first half. The Thunder are lethal in breakaway opportunities, so the Knicks absolutely need to take care of the ball.
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