For a while it seemed like the Spurs were going to return to victory in style, as they led by as many as 28 points in the first half. They started strong, hit their outside shots, moved the ball and did enough on defense to prevent a disorganized Knicks offense from getting the easy points it so desperately needed. In the second night of a back-to-back Gregg Popovich went deep into his bench early and everyone responded. Their opponent was an abject disaster on both ends in the first two quarters so even a mediocre performance would have been enough to get a lead, but the Spurs looked as good as they have this season and seemed on their way to a blowout win at the break, leading by 25.
Unfortunately it seems nothing will come easy for this team. An absurd amount of turnovers and other moments that would make for a good montage with Yakety Sax playing in the background neutered the offense. DeMar DeRozan faded after a strong first half and a lot of the role players who had shined earlier suddenly looked nervous. The Knicks got confident and started to execute better and make some of the tough looks they were missing earlier. They made several pushes, including one that cut San Antonio’s lead to seven with three minutes to go in the fourth quarter. A collapse seemed possible at that point, but thankfully the Spurs were determined to not let this one get away. They tightened up on defense and with some free throws and a thunderous DeRozan dunk sealed the win.
Devoid of context, beating the now 4-12 Knicks is not that impressive. It’s especially not encouraging to have to worry about complacency and self-inflicted wounds fueling an opposing comeback after leading by so much. If the Spurs were even a .500 team holding on a to a low seed this would be the type of game we would move on from quickly without assigning it much value.
But the Spurs don’t have a .500 record and had not won in over two weeks, so this win feels meaningful, even if ultimately it might not be. This wacky game against the Knicks probably won’t be the inflection point that turns the season around but could be a sign that the Spurs are finally heading in the right direction.
That’s the hope, at least. And we desperately needed some hope after the past few weeks.
- Derrick White returned from a foot injury that kept him off the court for two games and got a chance to start. He deferred too much and wasn’t as consistent on defense as he tends to be, so it’s possible he’s still a little hurt but had to play because Dejounte Murray rested on the second night of the back-to-back. It will be interesting to see who starts at point guard when everyone is available.
- DeMar DeRozan had a terrific first half but struggled like most of the team in the final two periods. LaMarcus Aldridge was steadier and kept the team afloat in the third quarter, when everything was going against the Spurs. They both turned the ball over too much but in general did their job on offense, combining for 44 efficient points and seven assists.
- Jakob Poeltl started again despite the Knicks having a relatively small big man duo, which suggests he’s earned that role going forward. He did a great job of attacking space and making himself available to his teammates, and his defense and rebounding were predictably solid. The only big problem is that neither he nor Aldridge are comfortable guarding shooting bigs or covering space up to the perimeter, so the trade-off for better interior defense is opposing bigs getting open looks from outside.
- Patty Mills continues to be rock solid off the bench, but with Marco Belinelli starting hot but fading fast and Rudy Gay just not having it on Saturday, the Spurs needed all the scoring help they could get from their deep bench. Fortunately Trey Lyles answered the call, finishing the night with 12 points and three three-pointers made. Lyles should not start or be a big minutes player, but there might be a small role for him going forward if his shot keeps falling.
- Both DeMarre Carroll and Lonnie Walker IV got some minutes and made the most of them, in distinctly different ways. Carroll is one of the least exciting players in the league, but he’ll always grab some boards, keep the ball moving and sop up minutes without having a negative impact. Walker, meanwhile, is a wildcard. When he’s off he can actively hurt his squad, but fortunately he was sharp against the Knicks. He had a big dunk and a Manu-esque baseline pass that energized the offense at the start of the fourth quarter. Hopefully both will continue to do well when given opportunities.
- Is Sean Elliott’s “back in my day” shtick wearing thin on anyone else or is it just me? I cringe every time he talks about how teams shouldn’t take threes and complains about the lack of physicality in today’s game. We get it, Sean. Please feel free to move on to other topics.
- The Knicks need a point guard or someone who can organize their offense. Frank Ntilikina is more of a George Hill type and Dennis Smith Jr. is just bad. Trading a big for a veteran floor general makes a lot of sense for them, so knowing their front office they probably won’t do it.
Next game: Vs. Lakers on Monday
The road trip is over, but the schedule doesn’t get any easier. A win against arguably the best team in the league might be too much too ask, but the Lakers will be on a THIGAFONI on the road, so let’s dream big.