The Spurs faced a tough challenge, as they hosted the surprising Knicks on a SEGABABA right after tough overtime loss to the Nets. As they have all year, they rose to the occasion and ended up getting a decisive 119-93 win in Keldon Johnson’s return to action.
From the start, the Spurs’ resilience was on display. Any concerns about how they would handle the painful loss from the previous night were erased when they took advantage of a Knicks team that lacked shot creation in Derrick Rose’s and Elfrid Payton’s absences to carve up the New York defense an grab an early lead. After trailing 4-3 with 10:23 to go in the first quarter, San Antonio got ahead on a Trey Lyles bucket and didn’t relinquish the lead in the period. Unfortunately, despite being fully in control, the Spurs wasted opportunities, both on the break and on open three-pointers, to create a cushion big enough to protect them from a Knicks run that came late in the frame to even out the game.
It was a low scoring affair throughout the first half, which was not surprising considering the Knicks’ elite defense. Yet at times things got downright ugly, as neither team could find ways to score consistently. For New York, the reason was a distinct lack of perimeter shot creation, which allowed San Antonio to focus solely on containing Julius Randle. For the Spurs, it was the lack of shooting from some of the strange and untested lineups Gregg Popovich had to use. The Knicks did a better job of scrounging up points earlier in the quarter to retake the lead, but eventually had to rely almost exclusively on some timely threes to avoid falling behind once the Spurs regained their footing, with Johnson leading the charge.
By not taking advantage of the opportunities to create separation early, it seemed like the Silver and Black had put themselves in a tough situation. It’s not uncommon for teams on a SEGABABA to simply run out of gas, so those early buffers often come in handy. Yet the opposite seemed to happen. The Knicks looked slower to react as the second half started and paid the price. DeMar DeRozan went into playmaker mode and started finding shooters that were now sinking their outside looks. Randle, meanwhile, was still struggling with some great defense from the Spurs as a team and Luka Samanic individually. The barrage of outside shots combined with New York’s sloppy, predictable offense resulted in an ever growing San Antonio lead that reached 19 points in the third quarter.
The game was essentially over after that. The ghost of a potential run loomed at times, but Pop was ready to call a timeout every time it was needed and the players didn’t really relax for more than a couple of possessions in a row. In the end, there was enough garbage time for Tre Jones to get some run and for Samanic to tease even more of his significant potential. No one could have scripted a better bounce back game if they had tried.
- Keldon Johnson is back! Pop said before the game that Johnson wasn’t going to play much and he stuck to his word, giving him only 10 minutes in the first half before shelving him for the rest of the night. Johnson still managed to finish with nine points, two rebounds and one assist, somehow. Hopefully his return signals that the rest of the players that were also out are closer to being available again.
- DeMar DeRozan only logged five field goals and Dejounte Murray went 6-for-16 from the field. It’s hard to believe the Spurs won with those numbers from their two main shot creators, but both did a good job of setting up others, combining for 17 assists. When the supporting cast is performing well, San Antonio can get away with some less than stellar scoring nights from the big names.
- Five Spurs had more than one made three-pointer against the Knicks. Outside shooting played a huge part on San Antonio getting this win. Both Patty Mills and Trey Lyles had four each for the night and a combined five in the third-quarter run that sealed the win. Great stuff from both, but particularly from Lyles, who made the Knicks pay for leaving him open to help on DeRozan.
- The only Spur who shot badly from outside? Lonnie Walker IV, who missed nine of his 10 attempts. It’s possible I cursed him before the game even started, to be fair, but at least he had his mid-range jumper going to avoid a truly horrendous shooting night.
- With no LaMarcus Aldridge (out with a stomach illness), it was on Drew Eubanks to back up Jakob Poeltl. Eubanks (eight points, seven rebounds and a block) was as productive as he usually is in his 18 minutes, proving that while he shouldn’t be counted on consistently, he can sop up minutes against opponents who don’t have dominant interior presences.
- It’s hard not to get hyperbolic about how good Luka Samanic looked in this one. In recent games he’s showed he belongs in the league, but against the Knicks he proved that he could be special. Samanic hit three three-pointers, went after rebounds and defended Julius Randle as well as anyone could en route to his best game in the NBA. It’s almost bittersweet to know that the team will be whole soon because it will likely mean that Luka won’t get any minutes.
. @SamanicLuka— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) March 3, 2021
(peep KJ in the back ) pic.twitter.com/bpeEaPm2YO
- Immanuel Quickley (26 points, four assists) is fun to watch. Could he be the point guard of the future the Knicks have needed for years? Probably not, but he might be the dynamic bench scorer that leads their second unit for years to come.
Next game: Vs. Thunder on Thursday
The Spurs will have the opportunity to get revenge on the Thunder after that painful loss from a few days ago. Hopefully Johnson won’t be on such a severe minutes restriction by then.