The schedule early in the season hasn't been kind to the Spurs. The good guys have already had two BABAs this season and were visiting New York for an early-starting FOGASINI leading to a SEGABABA. Fortunately, this Knicks team at this point of the season was the best possible opponent for a tired, road-weary team to face.
The Knicks were coming into this game without their defensive anchor, Tyson Chandler, which forced them to start Andrea Bargnani at center. J.R. Smith was making his official debut this season after a suspension and looked predictably rusty. Amare Stoudamire is not even close to peak form. Carmelo Anthony has struggled to get going after a fantastic scoring season in 2012/13. Iman Shumpert has been the target of trade rumors. Of all the good teams out there, the Knicks are reeling the hardest right now and a win in MSG seemed close to guaranteed provided the Spurs showed up to play. And they sure did.
Gregg Popovich continued to experiment with lineups, using the Spurs' depth and versatility to match the Knicks small-ball starting unit. Boris Diaw started in Splitter's place and Marco Belinelli replaced Kawhi Leonard at the wing. With a spaced out floor to work with and a terrible help defender in Bargnani charged to try and contain him, Tony Parker went to work, knifing through the Knicks' defense like he has so many times in his career against weak inside presences. When the Knicks helped, the Spurs - and Danny Green in particular - rained threes.
On the other end, the Spurs' defense continued to shine as it has for most of the early season, limiting the Knicks to just 17 first quarter points by trying to deny Anthony the ball and daring others to do the scoring. Andrea Bargnani and Raymond Felton are fine offensive players, but if your team relies on them to carry it, you are in trouble. That's especially true if your designated bench gunner air-balls multiple shots in his first stint of the season and your former franchise power forward seems like a shell of his former self. The Spurs' bench, meanwhile, was humming. That will happen when you have guys that would be starting in 90% of teams in the league like Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter relieving your starters. Everything worked for the Spurs in this one as they got an early lead that would only grow as the minutes went by.
The game was pretty much over after the first half. The Knicks conceded with their lack of effort to start the third quarter and with the Spurs maintaining their defensive intensity and Danny Green canning triples, things started to get out of hand. Unfortunately for everyone involved, there was still a quarter and a half left to play. Pop made the most of it, giving the usual subs unit some reps instead of clearing the bench too early. Once the Knicks sent their deep bench in, so did Pop and we were treated to some big garbage time minutes for De Colo, which are always entertaining. After some close games to start the season, it was nice to see a good old-fashioned blow-out.
- Danny Green had the best game of the season, and likely his career, with 24 points on 11 shots and ten boards. Green's quick release is a beauty to watch and unless the opponents are always aware of where he is and aggressively chase him off the three point line, he will continue to be a great weapon for the Spurs.
- The Spurs corrected all the problems I pointed out about their offense, at least for a game. There were very few mid-range jumpers and they got to the line a lot, especially Duncan, who took 11 freebies. Considering the Knicks' defense was putrid, we can't read too much into it but it's good to see the Spurs going back to the type of scoring performance that made them an offensive juggernaut in the first place.
- Perhaps the one dark cloud in an otherwise perfect game was Manu Ginobili's three point shooting. For some strange reason Ginobili can't connect from outside and it's hurting the rest of his offensive game. As the misses pile up, defenses are just not playing him as close, daring him to shoot. That makes it hard for him to drive to the basket, a couple of great long floaters, notwithstanding. Fortunately, his defense and distributing are looking very good so far. But that shot needs to fall for Manu to really be Manu.
- There will likely be a more detailed post on this subject in the future but it's great to see the Spurs use their depth to match up against different teams. Against big teams, the Spurs can use Splitter and Duncan as their bigs with Leonard at SF. Against teams with stretch-4s, Diaw can start while Splitter backs up Duncan. And today, against a very small Knicks team, Pop had no problem bringing Splitter and Leonard off the bench. Having those options is a luxury and the Spurs realize that and take advantage of it.
- The Knicks are in a lot of trouble. With Chandler out 4-6 weeks, they are relying on a big man rotation of Bargnani, Stoudemire, Kenyon Martin and Cole Aldrich. Their best shot at a not terrible defense would be starting Kenyon Martin next to Melo, but that leaves the Bargnani-Stoudemire tandem off the bench. Woodson and the front office seem committed to J.R. Smith to the detriment of Iman Shumpert and they have very few assets to make a move. The team-building strategy the Knicks have used is a perfect example of what not to do and while it's tough to feel sorry for Knicks fans, at least the smart and funny community from Posting and Toasting deserves better.
The Spurs move to 6-1 and continue to lead the West. They will face Brett Brown and his surprising Sixers tomorrow, in a game that won't likely be this easy but seems winnable.
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