Carmelo Anthony was dressed in a dark suit on the Knicks’ bench watching Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook running up and down the court slamming and scoring against his team.
The Knicks were more than holding their own without Anthony. They led by 11 in the fourth quarter and four with under a minute left in regulation, but failed to finish off the Thunder.
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Too much Durant, too many Arron Afflalo misses and not enough Kristaps Porzingis led to a 128-122 overtime loss Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Durant, who called playing at the Garden a “blessing” fueling speculation he will consider the Knicks when he’s a free agent this summer, had a scintillating 44-point, 14-rebound performance.
“He’s a great player and he made great plays,” Derek Fisher said. “We couldn’t get timely stops at the end of regulation.”
Durant shot 12-for-26 from the field and 16-for-18 from the foul line. He scored 20 points in the last 11:29, hit the shot that forced overtime and made four free throws in the final 24.8 seconds of the extra period to ice the game. Westbrook had 30 points and 10 assists for the Thunder (34-13).
This was the Knicks’ third overtime game in nine days, and down the stretch and the extra period, they missed Anthony, who sat out because of soreness in his surgically repaired left knee. The Knicks (22-25) dropped to 0-5 without Anthony and lost their third straight. Despite that, Afflalo said the way the Knicks played showed him they should be in the playoffs this season.
“We’re a playoff team, period,” Afflalo said. “We belong in the playoffs. From this point forward it’s about at least giving that energy so if we do lose a game we know that we gave it everything and we’re not losing games just purely because we didn’t show up.”
Minus Anthony, the Knicks (22-25) looked to Afflalo to carry them. But he didn’t come through nearly enough.
Afflalo was just 6-for-21 from the field and scored 17 points. He had a shot to win it in regulation, but his baseline jumper rimmed in and out.
“I hadn’t made shots all night for whatever reason,” Afflalo said. “I have to take personal responsibility for those. But I felt like it was going in when it left my hand. It didn’t.”
Porzingis — who Durant called “a unicorn” because of his ability to shoot three-pointers and block shots on defense — had 15 points and just three after the third quarter. Porzingis wasn’t as involved offensively. He took just three shots after the third quarter.
Fisher said it was because the Knicks didn’t have a good flow offensively, and that Steven Adams was playing Porzingis’ physically. Fisher said the shots Afflalo got were in the flow of the offense or by design, although many of them were isolation plays with the shooting guard backing in his defender.
“Arron is a guy who closed for us before,” Fisher said. “He had some plays he couldn’t quite finish but he had some decent looks at it.”
Langston Galloway scored a team-high 21 points off the bench and Derrick Williams added 19 and 10 rebounds. But the Thunder dominated the boards, grabbing 17 more than the Knicks.
That cost the Knicks the game.
After taking a 113-109 lead with under a minute remaining in regulation on a Williams’ fastbreak dunk, the Knicks couldn’t secure a defensive rebound and gave up a Serge Ibaka put-back. Afflalo missed a fadeaway and Durant tied it with a jumper from the right elbow with 16.2 seconds left.
In the overtime, another Ibaka put-back gave the Thunder a 120-116 lead with 2:41 to go. Galloway drained a three-pointer to make it 120-119 with 1:43 left. After Durant misfired on a three, Afflalo’s turnaround bank shot with a chance to give the Knicks the lead was long.
Westbrook then rattled in a 12-foot pull-up jumper to make it 122-119 with 1:04 remaining. It stayed that way until Galloway made one free throw with 26.5 seconds remaining.
The Knicks intentionally fouled Durant, and his two free throws with 24.8 seconds left made it 124-120. After Afflalo scored inside to cut it to two, Durant drained two more free throws to make it 126-122.
“It’s very frustrating,” Porzingis said. “We know that we gave everything we had. It’s very frustrating to lose like that.”