The Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder were the only two winners from the NBA action on Thursday night, but New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith stole the show with a season-high 36 points at Madison Square Garden in the early game. Following that, the Nuggets caught fire from beyond the arc and dispatched the Clippers.
Here's a rundown of everything that happened on Thursday night:
Thunder 95, Knicks 94
Carmelo Anthony (stiffness in knee) missed his second straight game for New York, so the Knicks had to turn elsewhere for the bulk of their scoring. As it so happened, mercurial guard J.R. Smith had the hot hand for most of the night. Smith scored a season-high 36 points -- which was also the high mark in the NBA on Thursday -- but he grouped his production in a particularly dramatic fashion.
The Knicks were forced to live and die by J.R. Smith for most of the night just to keep pace with the scoring of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Martin. As live-and-die-by-J.R.-Smith games go, Thursday at Madison Square Garden was a good day to die hard. The Knicks put the ball in Smith's hands with the game on the line, and they came up short in a painfully predictable way.
Russell Westbrook exploded for 15 of his 21 points in the first quarter as the Thunder built an early 35-26 lead, and in the first 12 minutes Smith was nowhere to be found. He failed to score in the opening period, but that quickly changed.
J.R. scored 18 points in the second quarter and 13 more in the third to outshine everyone else on the floor, and during that span he scored 31 of the Knicks' 55 points -- OKC scored just 40 points as a team during the second and third periods combined. Smith cashed in floaters, step-back jumpers, long threes, layups and everything in between during those 24 minutes, as he converted on 12-18 shots to get those 31 points.
By that time Kevin Durant had already posted 22 of his team-high 34 points, but the fourth quarter is what brought the attention back to KD. Durant scored 12 points in the final period to bring OKC back to grab the lead with less than two minutes remaining. However, J.R. Smith got a chance to respond with a potential game-winning shot in the final seconds.
Smith was just 2-9 shooting in the fourth quarter, and his final attempt tapped into the essence of his NBA reputation. After fighting so hard to get back and sprinkling in impossible shots along the way to hit his season-high, J.R. worked into an isolation look on the left side of the floor and wound up taking a silly turnaround, fade away jumper from 20 feet while under duress. It's what J.R. Smith does. It just didn't work that time.
If you had [jab step, jab step, half spin, jab step, fadeaway] in the your J.R. Smith Final Shot pool, you are the winner.— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) March 8, 2013
AT one point, J.R. was 9-16 for 22 points. He finished 14-29 for 36.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) March 8, 2013
Nuggets 107, Clippers 92
The Denver Nuggets were well-rested for their game on Thursday night, and eventually it showed against a Clippers team that was fresh off a solid win over the Milwaukee Bucks. Blake Griffin followed up his triple-double against the Bucks on Wednesday with a hollow performance beyond his scoring numbers -- 17 points, two assists, two rebounds.
The Clippers shot just 31.8 percent from deep (7-22 on threes) and Chris Paul (16 points, 10 assists) and Matt Barnes (19 points) were the only other Clippers players to score in double figures on the night. L.A. looked tired in the second half, as they shot 16-38 from the field (42.1 percent) the Nuggets outscored them 58-43 over that span.
Denver connected on 8-14 three-point attempts in the second half to push their lead as high as 18 points, and the tail end of the night turned into a comfortable win -- the Nuggets' seventh-straight win at home. As noted by Nuggets blog Denver Stiffs in its recap, the team clinched the season-series over the Clippers on Thursday:
Before the game, Steve Kerr and the TNT crew tossed out a crazy stat: the Nuggets are 71-13 over the past five seasons when their opponent comes to town on the second of a back-to-back. That record has now been pushed to 72-13. That's just about as good as the 72-10 Chicago Bulls. Pretty special.
The Nuggets were carried offensively by Ty Lawson who had 20 points, 11 assists, 6 rebounds and 0 turnovers and Danilo Gallinari who put up 20 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds. Kenneth Faried chalked up his 27th double-dip of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds and the bench mob of Corey Brewer (11 points), Andre Miller (12) and Wilson Chandler (12) combined for 35 points.