Commentary

Knicks get defensive in snapping skid

Nine blocked shots, plus Amare Stoudemire's 23 points, too much for Thunder at MSG

Updated: December 23, 2010, 7:59 AM ET
By Chris Sheridan | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Amare Stoudemire was waiting when Russell Westbrook drove down the lane after stealing a pass by Wilson Chandler, and Stoudemire's rejection was so forceful the ball would have landed in Spike Lee's seats if James Harden hadn't been standing in the way to catch it.

Harden fired up a 3-pointer that missed, Kevin Durant came down with the offensive rebound and tried to go right back up with it, only to be deterred once again by the outstretched arm of Stoudemire.

[+] EnlargeAmare Stoudemire
AP Photo/Kathy WillensAmare Stoudemire scored 23 points as Raymond Felton became the first Knick since Stephon Marbury to post 10 assists in five straight games.

Those were just two of the nine blocks the New York Knicks accumulated Wednesday night in a 112-98 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder that snapped a three-game losing streak, and they brought the loudest roar of the night from a Madison Square Garden crowd unaccustomed to cheering for excellence of any kind -- but especially excellence on the defensive end.

"That was great. They noticed the hard work and our dedication to playing defense, and that sequence right there in the fourth quarter, we needed to take that step toward closing the game out," said Stoudemire, whose three blocks augmented a stat line that included 23 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

The Knicks were coming off three days of rest, whereas the Thunder were playing the second night of a back-to-back on the road after defeating Charlotte the previous night in what turned out to be Larry Brown's final night coaching the Bobcats. The difference in the teams' energy levels was palpable, and New York took control in a second quarter in which they were at their most effective when Stoudemire and Ronny Turiaf (11 points) played together on the front line. The Knicks shifted the game their way with a 30-10 second-quarter run that turned an eight-point deficit into a 12-point lead in a span of just eight minutes. Oklahoma City didn't have the legs to mount any kind of a sustained rally in the second half.

And so the bleeding stopped for the Knicks after a three-game losing streak that brought them back down to earth, coach Mike D'Antoni even acknowledging that "emotionally, we got a little ahead of ourselves."

It was a rare lopsided win against a quality opponent, and it evened the Knicks' home record at 7-7 heading into their Christmas Day noon matinee against the Chicago Bulls, which will be followed by road games at Miami and Orlando to close the month.

Most importantly, it was a confidence boost to a team that was humbled over the latter half of last week by losses to Boston, Miami and Cleveland, following a run of 13 wins in their previous 14 games.

"We were on a high, the Garden was crazy, which was great -- I'm not complaining. But that takes stuff out, it was like playoff games, and as a young team I don't think we stayed emotionally calm all the time. If we had a great win, we were too high. If we lost, we were too low," D'Antoni said. "It's a marathon. You have to knock out games and not worry about what's happening around."

While the Thunder were basically a two-man show with either Kevin Durant (26 points) or Russell Westbrook (23 points) dominating the ball, the Knicks got contributions from all over. Chandler was 3-for-4 on 3-pointers and 9-of-15 overall in accumulating 21 points; Raymond Felton became the first Knick since Stephon Marbury in 2004 to have 10 assists in five straight games, posting totals of 12 points and 10 dimes; Turiaf spearheaded a 29-point contribution from the bench; and Landry Fields did a little of everything with 14 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block.

One of Fields' rebounds became a putback basket on the sequence immediately following Stoudemire's personal block party, giving the Knicks a 101-84 lead with 8:03 left that snuffed whatever remaining life was left in the Thunder. Timofey Mozgov, Anthony Randolph, Roger Mason and Bill Walker all got to tear off their warmups as the final three minutes turned into garbage time, and the Knicks left the building with a sense of rejuvenation after an emotionally taxing week that ended with a last-second loss to Boston, a second-half meltdown against Miami and then a fourth-quarter collapse on the road against a Cleveland team that had lost 10 in a row before beating the Knicks.

It was a week in which the atmosphere at the Garden was especially electric, though the results weren't what the Knicks wanted.

"I knew it was special, particularly the Denver game, and we won it," said Knicks president Donnie Walsh, who was back in the building for the first time in more than a month after undergoing hip replacement surgery. "The Boston game I thought we played really well there, and they're a good team. They've got a chance for a championship. Then I could see Miami was going to present a problem for us even though it was tied at halftime, and they did. Then I saw the Cleveland game, and we just let it go. And I was worried that we've had so many games, and the team has played so hard during those games to get where we are, that this stretch is going to be a difficult one."

It's still a difficult stretch, but this was not a difficult game. Not when the Knicks' defense was as aggressive as it has been all year, a characteristic that showed the most on Stoudemire's signature swats of those shots by Westbrook and Durant.

"We've talked about it: That'll be our key, if we can defend -- or at least defend better than the other team does," D'Antoni said. "They did it today, and now they have to do it the next game. That'll be a key for us going forward."

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN.com and ESPNNewYork.com.

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