2-for-2 Three-point shooting numbers for Reggie Jackson, whose eight points were big for the Thunder

4-for-6 Shooting numbers for Kevin Martin, who finished with 16 points, four rebounds and four assists

5 Blocks by Serge Ibaka, in addition to 12 points and 40 minutes played

8 Rebounds by Kendrick Perkins in 20 minutes of action

9 Rebounds by Serge Ibaka, part of a 41-38 Thunder advantage

19 First half points for Russell Westbrook, who finished with six rebounds and five assists

20-13 Scoring differential in the Thunder’s favor in the fourth quarter

34 Points for Kevin Durant, in addition to seven rebounds and six assists

March 7th, 2013

NEW YORK – The Thunder proved on Sunday in Los Angeles that it could win a close game late by executing on the offensive end. Tonight at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks, it showed the ability to close out a game with its defense, gaining a 95-94 win.

Holding a one-point lead with 1:38 remaining, the Thunder got three consecutive defensive stops to keep the Knicks at bay. Kevin Durant made two free throws, which turned out to be the last points of the game, then Russell Westbrook slapped the ball away from Knicks guard Raymond Felton and hustled to grab the loose ball by diving on the floor.

On the next Knicks possession, the Thunder’s full team defense forced a difficult, contested missed three-pointer by JR Smith. After a Durant jumper that just rimmed out, the Knicks had one more chance, but Westbrook guarded Smith tightly on the left wing, forcing a miss at the buzzer and clinching a Thunder win.

“Russell is one of our best defenders,” Head Coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s been defending his entire career, but I thought he did a great job of making them take a tough shot. He takes a lot of pride in his individual defense, and it showed on that last play. We did a good job in our defensive execution the entire fourth quarter.”

Smith started the game 9-for-16 but finished 14-for-29 as Thunder defenders like Thabo Sefolosha, Reggie Jackson, Durant and Westbrook each took turns bothering him. It seemed in the fourth quarter the Thunder’s defenders did a nice job of forcing Smith, who was mainly taking contested long two points and step-back three-pointers, to fade left as opposed to right on his shots. It was a small difference, but one that helped the Thunder hold the Knicks to only 13 fourth quarter points.

“We just locked in defensively in that fourth quarter,” Durant said. “When I guarded him, I just tried to make him shoot over top… Thabo did a good job when he came in the game and Russ, on that last play, made him shoot a tough shot.”

On the other end of the floor, despite not shooting the ball particularly well, the Thunder continued to manufacture points any way that it could. Whether it be a timely offensive rebound, an extra pass or an aggressive drive to the lane, the Thunder found ways to score just enough to get over the hump. A 9-2 flurry at the beginning of the fourth quarter led by Durant and Jackson, who hit two crucial three-pointers, was a pivotal stretch. From there on out, the Thunder, led by Kevin Martin, Durant and Westbrook, made their mark at the free throw line. Durant was 14-for-15 on the night as the Thunder finished 25-for-29, needing every one of them.

“That’s why we’re probably one of the most efficient teams in the league,” Martin said. “Because we get to the line, shoot a high percentage, and take three-point shots… Plus we have KD (Durant), he gets to the line so easy. He knocks them down and that’s a big help also.”

The Thunder’s offense late ended with a number of trips to the foul line because of their aggressiveness and willingness to move the ball to the open man, putting pressure on the defense. When it was their turn to defend, particularly in the fourth quarter, Brooks’ squad put an emphasis on forcing difficult, low-efficiency mid-range jumpers as opposed to shots in the paint or from behind the three-point stripe. By closing out strongly on shooters and ducking in to protect the paint, the Thunder closed off easy scoring chances for the Knicks.

“It seemed like we were all on the same page with our rotations,” Martin said. “We let them keep on taking 15-foot shots. They were hitting them in the first three quarters, but 15-foot shots are hard to stay efficient at in this league.”

It was special as the Thunder rounded itself up after Westbrook’s final defensive stand on Smith, as all of the players and coaches congratulated one another on a job well done right in front of the bench. It was a hard-fought win, not dissimilar to that contest against the Clippers a few days ago. As leaders like Durant and Westbrook have grown over the years, so has this team, showing again its ability to be versatile and a force on both ends of the floor.

“We’re growing as a team,” Durant said. “We just wanted to lock in and get a stop. Everybody was on point in that fourth quarter. It started with the second unit. It was a really good defensive game.”

Turning Point:
The Thunder trailed 81-75 heading into the fourth quarter, but fueled by a 9-2 run, Brooks’ squad re-gained the lead, bringing the game back to a one-possession game, where it would remain the rest of the night. It started with an acrobatic, scooping Kevin Durant driving layup to start the quarter, then after forcing a miss on the other end, Reggie Jackson knocked down a three-pointer from the top of the key. JR Smith made a fadeaway jumper, but the Thunder responded with two free throws then a made jumper to make it an 84-83 Thunder lead with 9:42 remaining in the game.

Plays the box score won't show, first half:
Nice hustle on the offensive boards by Ibaka to grab a rebound and put it back in. Westbrook makes a beautiful drive and kick-back pass to Durant for three. Durant sits down and posts up at the elbow, then swings the ball to Martin in the corner for three. Westbrook’s speed creates two free throws because he beat the defense down court. Martin’s on-ball defense is relentless to force an offensive foul. Ibaka plays wonderful post defense to force a shot clock violation.

Plays the box score won't show:
Ibaka hustles back to stop a transition opportunity for the Knicks. Sefolosha works around a screen-and-roll and blocks a shot from behind. Nice team defense by the Thunder to force a late, contested, long three-pointer at the end of the shot clock. Westbrook sticks with it and tips in his own miss. Fisher hustles and dives on the ground for a loose ball. Nice closeout out top by Durant on JR Smith. Westbrook dives on the floor to grab a loose ball and calls a timeout.

“I think in that fourth quarter we just tried to come out and play lock down defense. I think that’s what we did… We forced them to shoot over hands. When we do that, we’re tough. It was a good win.” – Kevin Durant