If you thought the short-handed San Antonio Spurs were going to come in tonight exhausted from their admirable but in-vain comeback attempt against the Brooklyn Nets last night (like me), you thought wrong. After a bit of a sluggish start, the Spurs caught fire in the second half, hitting 18 threes on the night and achieving the rare blowout against the improved New York Knicks, 119-93.
Trey Lyles led the Spurs with 18 points on four threes, making him the league-leading 9th Spur to lead the team in scoring this season. Dejounte Murray had his usual 17 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists, and Patty Mills and Luka Samanic both provided 14 points off the bench. Immanuel Quickley led the Knicks with 26 points and 6 threes.
- LaMarcus Aldridge missed this one with a stomach bug, but the Spurs welcomed back Keldon Johnson from COVID-19 protocols. He came off the bench and only played 10 first-half minutes as he continues to get back in shape, but it was just good to have him and his energy back. He genuinely appeared to be having great time, even on the bench where he was always the first one up celebrating (and even air-guitaring) his teammates.
- The first quarter was an offensive struggle fest, with both teams shooting sub-40 percent. The Spurs bench used a 7-0 run to get up 24-14 but just as quickly relinquished it, allowing a 13-1 run by the Knicks spanning the first and second quarter with bad transition defense and New York hitting three straight threes to close the first quarter.
- Whatever you think of fans returning to game, at least it hopefully means the end of the artificial fan noise. It’s too fake, often out of step from a timing perspective, and sometimes I’m not even sure they always pick the correct “reaction” every time. (Also, I won’t lie: I can’t wait for some genuine booing to tell the refs when they get something wrong. It wasn’t really needed in this game, but they could have used it against the Nets.)
- Tom Thibodeau has done an amazing job turning this Knicks team around, and it’s been all about playing to his strengths as a coach: defense. Who ever thought they would be the top defensive team in the league? They are extremely disciplined on that end with solid rotations, timely double-teams, and aren’t easy to break down. Fortunately, the Spurs did on this night.
- One thing the Spurs did have trouble with in this one was closing out on threes. Whether it was due to personnel, lack of discipline, or exhaustion from the previous night, the Knicks made 7 of their last 10 threes of the first half after missing their first eight (and 15 overall for the game), which left the Spurs playing catch-up most of the second quarter. However, they closed on a 10-4 run to take a 51-47 halftime lead, punctuated by a Mills corner three at the buzzer that came after the refs had called halftime, but video replay showed the ball had gone out of bounds with 0.7 sec remaining, allowing for the extra possession.
- I’m just going to go on and say it: Luka is NBA ready. He is looking more and more comfortable on both ends of the court, no longer hesitating to shoot, and is usually in position on defense. Of course, he is still learning — he had two lay-ups erased for being a little too aggressive and committing charges, and while he did an admirable job on defense, Julius Randle still taught him a lesson or two on that end — but it appears he has officially made the leap. He may still go back to the G League when the Spurs are healthy to keep developing, but he should be a rotation player by next season at the latest.
- Usually it’s the second and fourth quarters where the Spurs work their magic, but tonight it was the third, where they outscored the Knicks 36-21 to take a 19-point lead, mostly by getting hot from three with seven in the quarter. They maintained that lead or more for the majority of fourth quarter, and the Spurs came away with their first win on a SEGABABA this season. 11 more are coming in the second half, so get ready.
For the Knicks fans’ perspective, visit Posting and Toasting.
The Spurs will close the first half of the season on Thursday at home while looking to exact some revenge on the Oklahoma City Thunder. Tipoff will be at 8:00 PM CT on FSSW.