The Spurs beat the Knicks 94-84 to get their third straight victory and the second in the past two days. Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard finished with double-doubles to power the team to a good road win against a feisty New York squad that made it a game in the second half before falling short late.
In a lot of ways the matchup against the Knicks mirrored the one from Sunday against the Celtics. The first quarter wasn't as unpleasant to watch -- how could it be? -- but San Antonio struggled. Aldridge couldn't get going early and some defensive breakdowns allowed New York to put points on the board despite not shooting well from the floor. Fortunately, the Spurs once again found their bearings before falling into a big hole and they trailed by just three after the first quarter.
The bench wasn't as sharp as in past games in this one, so the starters had to step up. They revved up the intensity on defense and Kawhi Leonard and Aldridge combined for 14 points in the second quarter, matching the output of the entire Knicks squad. The ball moved better than at any point so far this season, with 10 of the frame's 13 field goals being assisted. Tony Parker did a good job of getting the defense off balance but the bigs actually dished the dimes, with Duncan notching four and David West three. At the half, the Spurs were up 12, 47-35.
Once again the Spurs had the chance to put their opponent away in the third quarter and once again they failed to do so because of turnovers. The Knicks should get credit for playing with a lot of energy and capitalizing on the mistakes, to be fair. Carmelo Anthony, who struggled most of the night with Kawhi Leonard's defense, forced his way inside and drew trips to the line while Kristaps Porzingis used his length to make plays. After being up 13 at one point, the Spurs only led by five going into the final quarter.
The two teams traded buckets early but the Knicks' players who helped make it close ran out of gas. Jerian Grant, who had made a big impact in the third, went to the bench and Parker took advantage of the matchup against Jose Calderon to get four points and an assist to Boris Diaw for a three in a little over a minute. Porzingis went down with a neck injury, further deflating the already reeling Knicks and Anthony couldn't do it alone. It was smooth sailing to the finish line after that.
With every passing game the Spurs look more comfortable with their new identity, mixing post ups and ISO's with crisp ball movement. They haven't been able to play a full game without succumbing to either anxiety or complacency but are still 3-1. It's early but their ceiling looks as high as any team's right now.
Play of the game
That was just mean, LaMarcus
- A day after the Big Three of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili became the winningest in league history, Big Fun surpassed John Stockton for most wins with a single team. He wasn't carried by his teammates either, as he pitched in 16 points and 10 rebounds. Congrats, Timmy!
- Yes, he was being guarded by Jose Calderon but Tony Parker looked good. He found a good balance between looking for his shot and just getting the offense in its flow. He might not be as fast as he once was but got to the rim and finished and he notched two secondary assists to go with his three dimes. Encouraging night for Parker, who will have to battle John Wall next on Wednesday.
- There are still some awkward moments in which they don't find one another but Aldridge and Leonard look like a fantastic one-two punch, combining for 37 points and 20 rebounds. They can both score inside and out and Leonard's rebounding prowess allows Aldridge to stay close to perimeter bigs. If they develop some chemistry, look out.
- Boris Diaw, Ginobili and Patty Mills didn't have as big an impact in this game after some very good performances but they still did well, combining for 18 points, six rebounds and six assists. The bench is doing better than I had imagined they would early on.
- David West had a productive eight minutes off the bench but right now it looks like Pop is comfortable with an eight-man rotation. West playing so little is a bit strange to me. He's an awkward fit next to Diaw and Aldridge needs to be on the court 35 minutes a game, but at some point the Spurs will need him to contribute. He looked good next to Tim Duncan. Finding him some minutes when Big Fun is on the court shouldn't be that hard.
- Pop doesn't trust Kyle Anderson. He had a short stint in the first quarter but Extraneous G went with two point guard lineups and played Manu Ginobili 17 minutes, which seems high for a second game of a back-to-back in which he was supposed to rest. Anderson will continue to have chances because the Spurs are thin at the wing but he needs to show Pop something or he will fall out of the rotation.
- As a team San Antonio is averaging six fewer drives per game this season and five fewer three-pointers. With the emphasis shifting to inside scoring, Danny Green has a lot of pressure to connect on the few clean looks he gets and he's struggling so far. A 0-for-2 night from beyond the arc makes it 2-for-17 for the season. In this iteration of the team, Green doesn't seem as valuable as he was in the past on offense. Fortunately, his defense is good enough to make him a good starter.
- Trading Tim Hardaway Jr. for Jerian Grant was a sneaky great move by Phil Jackson. Grant can play and could develop into a starter one day. Hardaway, meanwhile, is a one-dimensional player who is the same age as Grant. The Knicks nailed the draft and seem to have competent management leading them. Hopefully owner James Dolan doesn't meddle and sees the rebuilding effort through.
The Spurs finish their three-game road trip with a visit to the Wizards. Washington has arguably the second best player in the East leading them in John Wall and an emerging star in Bradley Beal. San Antonio's defense has been great so far. Let's see if it can keep Wall out of the paint and Beal contained.
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