NEW YORK - In a span of five days, the New York Knicks lost home heartbreakers to both the NBA champion Miami Heat and NBA Finals runner-up Oklahoma City Thunder.
Intent on ending a long run of postseason failure, the Knicks could not have been blamed for feeling downcast.
Atlantic Division-leading New York (37-22) have gone 13 years since winning a playoff series and 40 years since claiming their last NBA crown.
The New Yorkers, however, preferred to look on the bright side after their 95-94 loss on Thursday to the Thunder that was decided when New York's J.R. Smith's potential game-winning jumper clanked off the rim at the buzzer.
"That was a hell of a game," said Knicks coach Mike Woodson. "They played their hearts out against one of the best teams in the league. I was very pleased with our play."
New York played their second successive game without leading scorer Carmelo Anthony, out with a sore knee, and Smith stepped up to score 36 points and very nearly pulled off the heroic finish.
Smith, a streak shooter, carried the Knicks by hitting 14-of-29 shots, including 6-of-13 from three-point range. He scored 31 of New York's 55 points during the second and third quarters during which they outscored the Thunder 55-40.
"Overall, it was a great game," said point guard Raymond Felton, who scored 16 points. It was a great performance by him (Smith) and a great performance by the team. We had a chance to win the game. Everything was really positive."
In the end, the firepower supplied by Kevin Durant (34 points) and Russell Westbrook (21) proved too much as the Northwest-leading Thunder improved to 45-16.
Woodson said Anthony remained day to day and would not rule him out of Saturday's game against the Utah Jazz.
Amar'e Stoudemire, called upon to help provide more scoring punch in the absence of Anthony, also contributed 16 points for the Knicks.
"We're not overly disappointed," said Stoudemire. "I think we definitely gave them a great fight despite missing our leading scorer in Carmelo. We gave those guys a great game and it was a hard-fought battle."
Said Felton: "It gives us a great deal of confidence." (Reporting by Larry Fine, Editing by Patrick Johnston)