After grabbing an early advantage, San Antonio squeezed the competitive life out of the New York Knicks in its 123-114 win by shooting over 50% for the game and keeping just enough distance between them for much of the final three quarters. The Knicks mounted a late rally led by Julius Randle and Immanuel’s Quickley’s fourth quarter detonations but were literally turned away by stunning defensive efforts from Keldon Johnson and Romeo Langford in a closing flourish.
Both teams had no trouble connecting from distance in a hot-shooting first quarter that saw San Antonio take a nine-point lead. The Spurs were able to maintain an above-50% shooting rate through balance of the first half to maintain it.
San Antonio, missing its clutch swingman Devin Vassell, benefitted from a career scoring night for Langford (23 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 steal) with support from Johnson (30 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 blocks), Tre Jones (13 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists), and Jeremy Sochan (12 points and 5 rebounds) in a balanced attack where nine Spurs contributed five or more points.
Missing its own stars, Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett, Randle (41 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists) and Quickley (36 points, 7 assists, and 7 rebounds) provided New York with outsized production in the loss.
- An excellent primer on Malaki Branham’s recent progress tied to his increased playing time.
- Bill Land called the Knicks “a hard team to figure out.” They seem like a really nice buffet of tasty individual dishes.
- Since it’s Star Wars Night in San Antonio, my list of best SW movies: 1) Rogue One, 2) Empire Strikes Back, 3) Return of the Jedi, 4) The Last Jedi, and let’s just stop here.
From the venerable Dan Weiss: “Since meeting in the 1999 NBA Finals culminating in the club’s first title, the @spurs have the league’s best record at 1245-638 (.661%) while the @nyknicks are 30th at 789-1090 (.420%). #PorVida #Spurs50” Talk about two disparate paths!
- Pele ‘Beautiful Game’ Tribute: Late in the first half, this sequence put San Antonio up a dozen: Sochan (defensive rebound) to Johnson (Stanley) back to Sochan (kickout pass) to Branham (drive and pocket pass) to Romeo Langford for an emphatic dunk.
- Jeremy’s Journey: There’s just no giving up with the guy. After fibbing a layup attempt late in the opening half, he tried to dunk it over two defenders. (Also, 12-for-15 since going one-handed.) Right after, he drove it off the catch and willed home a floater. Later in the second, he was bullied out of the paint, but drove in for a bucket late in the shot-clock.
- Former guard Devin Brown (contributed on the 2003 and 2005 title rosters) was recognized by the Spurs and joined the broadcast team. Memorable anecdotes: “Today’s (golfing) was just putting and chipping.” (after Sean Elliott quipped that he arrived so quickly after an afternoon of golf). Brown (on how his NBA career started) shared a story of how Pop inviting him to training camp at a Massachusett’s summer event, and later celebrating by “going 90 (mph) down Huebner near 1604.” Brown later stated “One of the best stories I like to tell (after Bruce Bowen picked up two early fouls), Pop yells ‘Devin’ to get into the game Laker guard Gary Payton watching and trailing him, then asking Pop “who is this guy?” and Payton later telling Kobe that ‘we’re gonna go after this Brown kid’ until he had to check out of the game... we were on the way to a nice contract until Derek Fisher 0.4 happened. Pop slapped the table because that seemed like the longest 0.4 ever. Tracy McGrady (in remembrance of the 13 point in 35 second game)... oh boy.”
- Derrick Rose is still in the league!
- Sequence of the Game: Late in the opening frame, and after McDermott hampered the white-hot Randle on a floater, Johnson (Stanley) took it end-to-end for an impressive layup.
- Defensive Play of the Game: On a fourth quarter transition opportunity, Randle shoved Sochan back with the ball to create spance, and the rookie recovered in time to swat away the Knick’s lay-up attempt.
- Keldon’s Kitchen: He’s going to need to work on a reliable bankshot on the left side to push defenses away.
- San Antonio rolled out a Johnson and Johnson lineup with mixed results, though four different starters pitched in for the first five buckets. Four audacious long-range buckets by Randle put New York in the lead, while Poeltl answered with two quick makes of his own. Both teams benefitted from early foul bonus situations. A Branham three pushed the Spurs back ahead. A smooth stepback three by Josh Richardson made it 38-29 Spurs exiting the first.
- A big-bodied and-1 by Johnson (Keldon) put the Spurs up 13 momentarily. (A lot happened during the Devin Brown visit with the broadcast team.). New York chopped the deficit by half over the middle minutes, but Randle’s brick left them down 11 heading to the break.
- Langford netted a pair of buckets, while Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride swished threes for New York to start the third. Sochan’s fourth foul brought Johnson (Stanley) off the bench. A degree-of-difficulty layup in transition by Langford put the Spurs up 13 again. The Spurs even forced a rare shot clock violation partway through. An iffy foul call on Jones was challenged and overturned, which netted the hosts a six-point swing after McDermott’s three. Johnson’s (Keldon) consecutive moonball threes provided his team its biggest advantage, but after several pockets of poor shooting and sloppy execution, Randle’s late three gave the Spurs a 92-79 margin exiting the third.
- The teams traded enpty possessions until an Evan Fournier floater. The tandem of Randle and Quickley kept on chipping at the deficit - getting it within nine. A Langford steal and lay-up and a Johnson (Keldon) three extended San Antonio up 14. After a stepback jumper, Randle crumpled at the Spurs’ end from a body blow, but returned to action shortly after. A McBride three brought the Knicks within eight, but Johnson (Keldon) turned away a New York dunk attempt, and Langford drew an offensive foul on Randle. Johnson (Keldon) picked up another impressive block, and Langford swished it home at the other end. After an over-and-back violation that the referees missed, Jones had a shotclock beating layup for the clinching points.
For the Knicks fan’s perspective, please visit Posting and Toasting.
San Antonio takes on Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks for a New Year’s Eve tilt Saturday at 6:00 PM CDT.