OKLAHOMA CITY — Of all the storylines heading into the Knicks-Thunder game Sunday afternoon, the most important one didn’t present itself until after the final buzzer.
Going in, you got your Carmelo Anthony vs. Kevin Durant scoring battle, and both were great. Neither disappointed.
You got the Thunder battling for the top seed in the Western Conference and New York on the way to 50 wins and the Atlantic Division title.
And, as always is the case with the Knicks, you got J.R. Smith, and he got his.
But here’s what else you got, and it’s a pretty blunt fact:
The Knicks beat the Thunder in every way possible Sunday, and that’s a storyline that would have been hard to predict and harder to see playing out.
But it happened and the result was a 125-120 victory. That’s why the New York winning streak stands at 12 games and that’s why the injured and inactive Rasheed Wallace was standing outside the visitor’s dressing room, hugging and congratulating each of his teammates as they came off the court.
Shorthanded and on the road, the Knicks didn’t have Wallace, Amar’e Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas.
The Thunder didn’t have an excuse.
Anthony took over the league scoring race from Durant, putting up 36 points to Durant’s 27 and Smith scored on a pair of “he-didn’t-just-do-that-jumpers,” late in the fourth quarter.
“I’m not really sure,” said Smith when asked to big-picture Sunday’s win and talk about what the victory means. “Just getting it together at the right time. It’s good for us.”
Good? Yeah, Smith was good. He had 22 points on 7-of-18 shooting, but this win was more than just good. It was impressive. After all, the Thunder were coming off a pair of wins — home against San Antonio and then Friday night at Indiana — and playing arguably their best ball of the season.
So the Knicks just played better.
New York had just six turnovers, and 23 second-chance points off of 19 offensive rebounds. The Knicks shot 49.5 percent and were good enough to overcome Oklahoma City’s 57 percent shooting with a combination of clutch and composure.
“They hit some tough shots,” Durant said. “You have got to tip your hat to them. They are hot. Carmelo was hitting shots. They were hitting threes. J.R. Hit some tough shots. I thought we did a good job getting our hands up.”
Russell Westbrook had 37 points, but he missed a 3-pointer with 1:21 to go that would have given the Thunder the lead. The next possession, Smith made a 23-foot step-back jumper. Westbrook missed again, and then after a diving Raymond Felton tapped out a loose ball with the shot clock running down, Smith made a 28-footer for a seven-point lead.
“I was more impressed with the way we held our composure,” coach Mike Woodson said. “We just battled right from the beginning. We were solid. For our team it was a great win.”
It’s a 50th win on the season and a satisfying one from a Knick perspective, considering in the last week they’ve beaten both Miami and Oklahoma City — the teams that made the Finals a season ago. But while the Heat rested starters, the Thunder had plenty of incentive, coming into Sunday’s game just a half-game behind San Antonio for the top spot in the West. Instead, they left a game back of the Spurs and on the business end of another streaking team.
Miami’s Valentine’s Day victory was its then-season-best seventh in a row. Denver came to Oklahoma City on March 19 and won its 13th in a row, but possibly the Knicks win was the most complete and certainly the most surprising. Six players scored in double figures, including three off the bench.
“A lot of people said we were going to lose this game,” Felton said. “A lot of people were counting us out. That’s a good win. We shut a lot of mouths up. A great win against a great team in their building. We still have a lot to work on. We’re playing great basketball right now. We’re proud of that. It’s not going to be easy. Just to get a win is good for us as a team and good for our confidence. At the same time, we’re not satisfied.”