Games like this one are hard to get focused for when you are a team like the Spurs. Sure, there has been a lot of talk about understanding there's a target on their back but the talent gap is so huge between them and a team like the Knicks that only a complete lack of interest by San Antonio for the majority of the game could lead to a loss. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened on Tuesday.
The Spurs came out lethargic, Pop decided to experiment with lineups (Reggie Williams sighting in the first quarter!) and some players performed below their normal level. They let the Knicks hung around and allowed their players to gain confidence. Against any NBA team that can come back to haunt you, as San Antonio learned the hard way on an overtime loss to a vastly inferior opponent.
As bad as the Spurs were, the Knicks deserve a ton of credit for pulling off the upset. Lou Amundson played like DeAndre Jordan, using his athleticism and hustle to grab eight offensive boards; the Alexey Shved-Langston Galloway backcourt combined for 43 points and 11 assists; Jason Smith and Cole Aldrich were huge off the bench; even Andrea Bargnani showed a glimpse of the talent that made him a first overall draft pick. New York played great on both ends, there's no denying that. What's frustrating is that they wouldn't have been able to without the Spurs having one of their worst games in a while.
It was as if the Spurs thought there was no way they could lose, no matter what they did, which is strange, considering they've had losses to the Lakers, the Jazz (before their post All-Star game surge) and the Pistons this season, not to mention ALBA Berlin in preseason. Why they think they can trot out weird lineups, play defense at half speed and stop moving the ball and taking three-pointers and still win is beyond comprehension at this point, even for a defending champion. 17 assists to 36 field goals with only 14 three-point attempts is a stat line that wouldn't be shocking if it belonged to the Timberwolves but is simply unacceptable for San Antonio.
"We didn't respect the game, we didn't respect our opponent," Pop said after the game, according to Schlomo Sprung of Sheridan Hoops. "It was a pathetic performance. And I hope that every player is embarrassed. Not because we're supposed to win the game, quote unquote, but it's about how you play the game."
While Pop is not blameless, that seems like a good description of the team's performance. The Spurs could have won it in regulation had the officials called a travel on Amundson's game-tying layup or if Leonard's potential game-winner wouldn't have rimmed out. They had their chances on overtime as well. But they didn't deserve to come out on top and the basketball gods made sure they didn't.
The good news is the Western Conference is so competitive that getting a higher seed assures nothing. The Spurs were never likely to climb to third with their remaining schedule. The team having a negative record outside the AT&T Center and potentially having to face a game seven on the road is not ideal but it's something that was as likely before this loss as after. The Spurs just haven't been nearly as good this season as they were last and they will either change that fact in the postseason or not at all. A random March game means very little in the grand scheme of things.
Luckily there's still time to get sharper before the playoffs. The Bucks and Celtics are up next and after that there's a killer five-game stretch against playoff teams that could show us how the Spurs measure up against direct competition. Bad losses have a tendency to stand out more than they should but they are nothing a few good wins can't erase.
Happy game notes only (we've had enough negativity for one recap)
- Clyde Frazier said Patty Mills' St. Patrick Day's sneakers looked "like something he might wear," which is, I think, a great compliment to get from a person who dresses like this:
- The Knicks' broadcast team had a little tribute to Becky Hammon, who played her first eight seasons in New York before joining the Silver Stars. Sometimes I forget that Becky was such a great player in her day.
- Fabricio Oberto was at the game and Tony Parker and Tim Duncan were super happy to see him. (Hat tip to @infomanu)
San Antonio will face the Bucks on Wednesday in Milwaukee on what will be the second game of a back-to-back for both teams.
For the opponent's perspective, visit the always great Posting and Toasting.