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San Antonio at New York, Final Score: Knicks blow out Spurs in second half, 96-111

The Spurs were okay in the first half but had nothing left in the tank in the second.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at New York Knicks Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Already depleted by COVID and losing yet another rotation player in Jock Landale to back spasms meant the Spurs entered their New York SEGABABA against the Knicks even more depleted than ever but still hoping to end their seven-game road trip on a high note. Unfortunately, after a decent first half, they had nothing left in the tank for the second, and an 18-2 run by the Knicks to start the fourth quarter ended their hopes in the 96-111 loss.

Four Spurs starters scored in double figures, led by Dejounte Murray with 24 on 11-19 shooting, and a 12-10 double-double by Jakob Poeltl. RJ Barrett exploded to lead the Knicks with 31 points, leaving the Spurs with no answer for him throughout the night.

Observations

  • Murray entered the game quietly leading the league in steals at 2.1 per game, just ahead of Alex Caruso’s 2 steals. This is your friendly neighborhood reminder that if he can achieve an average of 18 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists and 2 steals by the end of the season, he will accomplish something only ever achieved by Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan (since steals became a stat). He’s currently sitting at 18.3 / 8.3 / 9 / 2.1.
  • Josh Primo was listed as “probable” on today’s injury report with quad tightness, but he looked fine in the first quarter of his third straight start. He had a nice little stretch where hit a jumper from the free throw line, knocked ball off Julius Randle on defense, and found Keita Bates-Diop in traffic for the layup. He’d also hit his only three-point attempt of the quarter, but he also showed has plenty of work to do, as he lost Even Fournier for a couple of wide-open threes. (He had a nice makeup in the third quarter, blocking Fournier, leading to a Lonnie Walker three in transition.) Still, the Spurs led 26-23 thanks to some good individual performances from their main rotation players.
  • Gregg Popovich seemed to be putting more effort into staggering the starters in this one, especially after an “all bench” (or in this case, third string/10-day/ G-League) lineup allowed a big 14-0 run in the second quarter against the Nets. Tonight, Pop always had at least one of Murray, Walker or Poeltl in game (before garbage time). Murray and Poeltl re-entered to start the second quarter and had a dominant stretch against the Knicks bench, scoring the Spurs’ first 13 points of quarter to briefly get them out to an 8-point lead. Unfortunately, as they are wont to do in every game, the Spurs lost their way on both ends in the latter part of the quarter went into halftime down 49-51.
  • For the most part the NBA referees have done a good job of eliminating the “James Harden foul” from their arsenal (a.k.a. creating contact or using unnatural motions to draw fouls). However, there seems to be one trick up the players’ collective sleeves that the league hasn’t conquered: the “rebound flop”. I preface this by saying the Spurs benefit from it too, but it seems all players have to do nowadays to get a foul called on a rebound they have no chance of getting is jump early, forward, and flail, and a loose ball foul will be called.
  • The Spurs struggles on both ends continued in the third quarter, with 10 points from Murray being the main thing that kept them afloat. The Knicks got the lead as high as 12, and it looked like they might start pulling away, but the Spurs recovered just enough to end the quarter down seven, 75-82.
  • However, the possible recovery was brief as the Knicks opened the fourth quarter on an 18-2 run, with Barrett torching the Spurs possession after possession while San Antonio was unable to make anything happen on the other end. It took until a Devontae Cacok jump hook with 5:53 left just for the Spurs to get their second field goal of the quarter, and by then the game was over and Pop had emptied the bench.
  • If you need an understanding of just how much offense they Spurs have lost to COVID, the only two “proven scorers” available were Murray and Walker — and that’s saying something considering Murray has only just become one this season, and it’s a stretch to give that title to Walker. The Spurs are a team that, when whole, are much better than the sum of their parts and rely on teamwork and chemistry to make things happen. As they have shown time and again this season, even missing just one cog to the machine — let alone six — means it struggles badly to operate.
  • Walker had a rough night after his 25 points against the Nets yesterday, finishing this game with just 15 points on 5-19 shooting. He shouldn’t be blamed for the Spurs’ loss, though. He’s not used to carrying that much of a scoring load, is just a few games back from COVID, and was usually the one who was on when Murray and Poeltl were off, left with little around him to work with and the defense focused entirely on him. He should be credited for remaining aggressive throughout considering a main criticism of him is his tendency to fade into the background when his game is off.

For the Knicks fans perspective, visit Posting and Toasting.

The Spurs finally return to San Antonio from their seven-game road trip for a seven-game homestand, beginning on Wednesday against the Houston Rockets. Tipoff will be at 7:30 PM CT on Bally Sports SW-SA.