Carmelo Anthony was out for the New York Knicks and J.R. Smith was hot, stepping in for his injured star teammate to take on the bulk of the scoring load.
So the Oklahoma City Thunder knew who would get the ball when the Knicks had time for another shot, down one with seven seconds left -- especially since Smith had nailed these types of game-winners before.
But this time Russell Westbrook stepped up and Smith was left with a missed turnaround jumper at the buzzer -- along with some regrets that he didn't drive to the basket.
Despite Smith's season-high 36 points, the Thunder outlasted the Knicks with a 95-94 win at Madison Square Garden, giving Oklahoma City six wins in its last seven games as well as a 3-1 mark so far on its five-game road trip.
"We lost. I can't say it was a great night," Smith said after the Knicks dropped their second straight home game in the final minutes to one of last year's NBA finalists. "I've had high-scoring nights, but it doesn't really mean anything, because we lost.
"I tried to get to my spot where I wanted to get to. A turnaround jumper is a tough shot. I should have gone to the basket."
Durant scored 34 points to lead the Thunder (45-16), including their final six as the team traded leads five times in the last five minutes. Westbrook added 21 and Kevin Martin had 16 for Oklahoma City.
With Anthony out for a second straight game with a sore knee, Smith stepped up to provide most of the scoring for the Knicks, nailing six 3-pointers along the way. But New York (37-22) ultimately fell for just the second time in the past seven games; the Knicks also lost a close one to the defending champion Miami Heat on Sunday.
On Thursday, Raymond Felton and Amar'e Stoudemire scored 16 for the Knicks.
"I think we gave them guys a good fight," said Stoudemire, who shot just 5 of 16 from the field. "We're missing our leading scorer right now. ... We gave those guys a good fight."
Smith's sixth 3-pointer gave the Knicks a 90-89 lead with 4:15 remaining, triggering the tit-for-tat scoring down the stretch.
A little more than a minute later, Durant answered with a fade-away jumper to put Oklahoma City up 91-90.
Felton countered with a layup and New York led 92-91 with 2:58 left before Durant again nudged the Thunder ahead, 93-92, with a pair of free throws with just over two minutes left. Stoudemire then countered with two free throws of his own less than half a minute later and New York again led, 94-93. Durant hit two more with 1:38 remaining for the 95-94 lead and Oklahoma City stopped the Knicks the rest of the way, including Smith's missed bid for a game-winning jumper at the buzzer.
Durant said the Thunder knew Smith would get the call because, "when Melo's out, he plays like a superstar."
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said he thought Westbrook "did a good job making him take a tough shot. I thought the last play, Russell did a good job of locking in and challenged himself to get a stop."
The Knicks entered the fourth quarter with an 81-75 lead after finishing the third with a 21-10 stretch.
Durant scored six of the Thunder's first eight points in the fourth, giving them an 84-83 lead on a jumper with 9:41 left.
The game remained tight from there and through the final minutes.
Smith hit three 3-pointers during that span, including one with one second left to up the margin back to six after Oklahoma City closed within three on a three-point play by Durant.
After leading by as many as 11 in the first half, the Thunder entered halftime with a 59-56 lead. Westbrook led Oklahoma City with 19 points before the break; Durant and Kevin Martin added 13 apiece.
Smith had 18 points at halftime for New York, including a 3-pointer with 18 seconds left in the second quarter to cut the deficit to three.
NOTES: Knicks coach Mike Woodson said in his pre-game press conference he was not concerned about a long-term issue for Anthony, who hurt his knee in the first half Monday against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Woodson did say he would like to reduce Anthony's minutes a little when he returns to cut down on some wear and tear. ... With Anthony out, Kurt Thomas again started and Stoudemire came off the bench. Stoudemire has been given a minutes limit of 30 per game while recovering from knee surgery, but Woodson said that limit could eventually increase. ... Anthony's absence eliminated a battle between the league's top two scorers. Durant, who has won the past three scoring titles, entered the game averaging 28.6 points per game to Anthony's 28.2.