The shot clock was running out and the ball was skittering on the ground toward J.R. Smith 28 feet away from the basket.
In other words, the Knicks had the Thunder exactly where they wanted them. Smith picked up the ball and those who have watched him all season will not be surprised to learn that his buzzer-beating fling found nothing but the bottom of the net for a seven-point Knick lead and a silent madhouse in Oklahoma City.
The Knicks quieted the Thunder 125-120 on Sunday afternoon for their 50th win of the season, an impressive way to reach an impressive milestone that also happened to knock their magic number to win the Atlantic down to one while extending their winning streak to 12 games. Feel free to choose which of those accomplishments means the most while you marvel over the way they got there.
A couple of days after reveling in the reunion of the 1973 title team venerated for their teamwork, the Knicks again got contributions from every corner of the lineup. Jason Kidd sank threes left and right, Tyson Chandler finished pick-and-roll feeds from Raymond Felton and Chris Copeland somehow handled himself defensively at center without embarrassment.
Yes, the Thunder had an insanely efficient offensive day of their own and Russell Westbrook pretty much scored at will but the Knicks never stopped coming forward. No one exemplified that relentlessness better than Carmelo Anthony.
Anthony was a beast on the offensive glass, following up his own misses with a ferocity that the Thunder simply couldn't match because they never see stars play like that again. On a day when his battle with Kevin Durant for the scoring title was a major headline, Anthony won both the statistical matchup (36 points on 15-of-29 shooting against 27 on 7-of-17 for Durant) and the eye test as the more effective forward.
If anyone still doubted that the recent Knicks surge was for real, and plenty of people did based on the attempts to minimize the meaning of their winning streak, they have to be convinced now that this Knicks team can play with anyone in the league on any night. They took a lot of punches, blew a big halftime lead and found themselves trailing in the fourth on the road against one of the league's best teams before getting off the mat and winning the game.
This wasn't the Knicks team that faded under adversity against the Rockets and Bulls earlier this season. They fought back with their play instead of their mouths, retaking the lead for good with a 10-2 run that Smith punctuated with that bomb of a three-pointer with 58 seconds to play.
Fifty wins is a milestone that teams must reach to be considered a contender, but rarely does that 50th win come in a fashion that makes the argument all by itself. Sunday's game did just that, a cherry on top of what the Knicks have accomplished in the regular season.
It was impressive in every facet, as impressive as the blowout victories over the full-strength Heat and the comeback in San Antonio and yet another reason to allow yourself to dream big. Such dreams will require playoff wins to become reality, of course, and all these thrills don't mean much without them.
You really can't watch this team over the course of this season and think such wins are beyond their reach, though. When Smith is drilling 28-footers while Melo is outworking an entire defense on the glass and Kidd is rediscovering his shooting stroke, all seems possible.
There are worse ways to feel with 10 days left in the regular season.