for this game

Young trio leads Thunder to second win in three games

Jan 7, 2009 - 5:25 AM OKLAHOMA CITY (Ticker) -- As if the 2008-09 season hadn't been difficult enough for the Oklahoma City Thunder, this time they couldn't even hold on to a 23-point, second-half lead. Thankfully for them, they were able to pull it out anyway.

The Thunder picked up their fifth win of the season - and second in three games - on Tuesday night, holding off the New York Knicks for a 107-99 triumph.

It didn't come easily. Then again, nothing has for Oklahoma City this season.

"This game is why I love this team," Thunder interim head coach Scott Brooks said. "They battle, they fight every quarter of every game. We had a big lead and we gave it up, but we battled back and took a close game and closed it out."

The Thunder were in cruise control in the third quarter, as the "22-and-under" trio of Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook was regularly taking advantage of a soft and out-of-step New York defense.

Green - who finished with 27 points and seven boards - connected from 3-point range just over four minutes into the period, extending the Thunder's advantage to 75-52, the team's largest lead of the season.

"We had a ton of energy early," Green said. "We came out aggressive and they really didn't match us in energy. We took it to New York."

But the Knicks' offense - a combustible unit that has had flashes of brilliance and ineptitude in equal measure over the last month - hit its stride over the last five minutes of the period. Chris Duhon buried back-to-back 3-pointers to get things started and Al Harrington buried three in a row in a 63-second span to cut the team's deficit to 89-75.

"Chris drove the ball and they collapsed down on him in the lane a lot," Harrington said. "Three possessions in a row it was the same thing - Chris drives, kicks it out to me for a three, and it was really working."

Harrington's layup early in the fourth sparked a 12-2 surge that pulled the Knicks to within two at 93-91.

"We have to hold ourselves more accountable and stay focused by keeping on each other and make sure we are still doing our jobs," Green said. "When you are up that big, you tend to relax a little bit, but we needed to buckle down and get in each other's faces and challenge each other to get the stops we needed."

Durant answered with a pair of foul shots and a short jumper, but New York wouldn't go away.

With exactly a minute left, the Knicks pulled back to within three on Nate Robinson's two free throws. But they fell asleep on the defensive end just 19 seconds later, leaving Desmond Mason wide open for a back-breaking layup that extended Oklahoma City's edge to five.

"We forced some turnovers, got some stops," Harrington said. "We started to chip away at that lead, but we couldn't get the stops we needed at the end or hit shots at the end."

The Thunder were able to hold on from there, as New York misfired twice from long range in the final 23 seconds.

"We fought," Durant said. "They played hard and put us on our heels, but for really the first time this season we were able to play our way out of it. This was a test for us tonight, but we stopped the bleeding in time."

Durant posted 27 points and 12 boards, while Westbrook added 22, six and nine assists for the Thunder.

Harrington scored 21 points off the bench to pace the Knicks, who shot 40 percent (35-of-88) while allowing the lowly Thunder to connect at a 53-percent clip (39-of-74). It was an oddly lethargic performance from a team that just came off a huge win over the reigning champion Boston Celtics two nights prior.

"If we would have played the way we did Sunday, we would have won by 30. But for some reason, we didn't," Harrington said. "We need to find out what it is that motivates us to play hard. What we did the other night was Knick basketball. But for whatever reason it wasn't there tonight."