Something is ailing the Spurs right now, and it's difficult to put a finger on it.
Sure, they're 7-2 and sitting in great position in the Western Conference, but several of those were narrow wins. Tim Duncan is playing wonderful basketball this season, but Tony Parker is off and Manu Ginobili is hurt. And maybe that's it. Maybe all the usual pieces are still spinning the tires in a season less than 10 games old. Whatever the reason, the Knicks finished the game on a 27-11 run and overcame a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 104-100 in San Antonio.
If you ask Gregg Popovich, he'll tell you his team ran out of gas. A road trip out West can do that to a team, after all. Not that it was an excuse; just the truth. Parker (19 points, 12 assists) was leaving everything short after sparking the team in the middle quarters. He was getting others involved with four assists in the fourth, but of his four shots late in the game, not one went in. It wasn't just him, though. San Antonio shot less than 32 percent as a team in the final frame, and if not for Tiago Splitter's fourth-quarter perfection - 4 for 4 from the floor and 5-for-5 from the line for 13 points - who knows what the end result would have been?
"It's a hell of a team. They played well enough to win," Pop said of New York following the game. "I think we ran out of gas. The guys busted their butts. I'm really proud of their effort, but they just didn't have enough left in the tank after that road trip."
And there is a reason the Knicks are now 6-0; they're really good. They can shoot, they can defend, they're deep, and all the pieces they've put in place are paying dividends now. But the Spurs held an 89-77 lead with just over seven minutes to play, and that's a lead this team generally holds.
San Antonio's fourth-quarter surge began with Splitter's best contribution of the season. His 13 points were all the Spurs managed through the first seven minutes of the frame, but the Knicks erased that 12-point lead in just over five minutes of play. Raymond Felton took advantage of a Ginobili turnover and found J.R. Smith for a three that gave New York its first lead of the quarter with less than two minutes remaining. A Jason Kidd three and a Tyson Chandler dunk soon thereafter put the game away for good.
"I missed some shots that I usually make. I had some great looks and they didn't go in," Parker said in the locker room. "I was a little tired from being sick but there is no excuse. I should have made those shots.
"It's a tough loss because we had it in the fourth quarter. We were playing well."
The silver lining in this one was clearly the play of Splitter in the fourth quarter. The oft-maligned backup had been anything but smooth through eight games, but Thursday's performance was reminiscent of memorable efforts from last year.
"(Splitter) had some great minutes. He got himself rolling there for a little while and got us on the board," said Duncan, who recorded yet another double-double with 14 points and 14 boards. "We got to a point where we were up four or six and we got a bunch of stops in a row, but we couldn't string those scores together to pull away."
"We still had an opportunity to close it out. It is disappointing, obviously, but we will play another one soon."
The Spurs have the day off tomorrow and it seems much needed, because the schedule doesn't slow down with the Nuggets and Clippers in town over the next four days. Whatever is ailing the Spurs, whether it's Tony's game or Manu's back, a quick recovery would be nice after last night. Then again, it certainly would not be the end of the world if one didn't manifest itself on Saturday.
It's a really long season.
- Gary Neal did not play due to a cut sustained to the index finger on his shooting hand while picking up luggage during the team's trip in Los Angeles. Matt Bonner didn't play at all just because.
- DeJuan Blair started the game and played more than eight minutes, but Boris Diaw started the second half and Blair didn't play the rest of the night.
- San Antonio outscored New York 44-36 in the paint and 15-5 in fast-break points. The Knicks had three more second-chance points than the Spurs.
- The Spurs shot 44 percent from the floor to the Knicks 45 percent, but the difference was from the arc. San Antonio went 8-for-29 (27.6 percent) from distance while New York connected on 11-for-25 (44 percent) from three.
- The Knicks only turned the ball over seven times while the Spurs gave it away 13 times.
- Manu scored 12 points in 26 minutes to along with four assists, but he turned the ball over three times and still looks flat as his back continues to heal.
- Stephen Jackson played more than 26 minutes and recorded a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
- The Spurs out-rebounded the Knicks, 48-40.