By Jeff Latzke
OKLAHOMA CITY —
Driving to the basket in crunch time, Raymond Felton slipped to the floor and lost the basketball in the process. All he could do was lunge back at it and bat it toward J.R. Smith as the shot clock ticked closer to zero.
For the second straight possession, Smith beat the buzzer — this time with a 3-pointer — and the Knicks closed out a 125-120 victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.
"He makes plays like that. He makes tough shots. Sometimes I think he likes to take the tougher shot than the easier shot. They still go in," said teammate Carmelo Anthony, who had 36 points and 12 rebounds while moving ahead of Kevin Durant to become the NBA's top scorer.
"That shot, it was a nail in the coffin."
Smith finished with 22 points, including the two biggest shots of the game.
He connected on a 23-foot jumper from the right wing as the 24-second clock expired to put New York up 117-113 with 1:30 to play, then swished a 3-pointer with 56.8 seconds left that all but sealed New York's 50th win of the season.
"It was just a freak accident, a great play," Felton said. "I slipped, knocked the ball to him and he did the rest. He knocked down the big shot."
The victory was the Knicks' 12th in a row and put them at 50 wins for the first time in 13 years. They also moved 2½ games ahead of Indiana for second place in the Eastern Conference and moved onto the doorstep of clinching the Atlantic Division title.
Russell Westbrook had 37 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists for Oklahoma City, which fell a game behind San Antonio for first place in the West with five games left.
The Thunder had gained control of the race for first by beating the Spurs but were unable to complete a three-game sweep of San Antonio, Indiana and New York in a less than 72-hour span.
"We're good. We've got five more games to go," said Durant, who scored 27. "We lost a tough one. This team, they shot the ball well tonight. They hit some tough shots all night. We forced them to shoot some tough ones and they hit them.
"You've got to tip your hat to them, but other than that, what's the need to panic for? We're good."
Anthony's scoring average improved one-tenth of a point to 28.44, while Durant's stayed about the same at 28.35.
"I try not to think about that," Anthony said. "I just go out there and play ball."
Anthony, playing at Oklahoma City for the first time since April 2010, added to one of the more colorful histories of any visiting player despite failing to extend his run of 40-point games to four. He tied Bernard King's Knicks record with three in a row, going for 50, 40 and 41 in his previous three games.
Anthony hit game-winners in the closing seconds of Denver's only two games at Oklahoma City in 2009, then was knocked unconscious in the third quarter before returning in the fourth as the Nuggets rallied to win the 2010 game.