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Depth and teamwork propel Spurs past reeling Knicks

There were some big individual performances in this one but it took a team effort to get San Antonio the win against the shorthanded Knicks.

NBA: New York Knicks at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

As it’s been the case often with the Spurs, they struggled to close a game they were in control of until the final period, but fortunately this time they still prevailed, beating the Knicks 122-115. Standout performances from Julius Randle and Immanuel Quickley simply weren’t enough for a New York team that was coming off a historic late-game breakdown and missing Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett against an opponent that got to show off its depth.

The Spurs made it clear that they were ready to play from the start, as Romeo Langford, starting in place of the injured Devin Vassell, got a steal to start the game and then Jeremy Sochan got a deflection in the following possession. Jakob Poeltl was dominating inside on both ends, Langford was uncharacteristically aggressive on offense and the Silver and Black were owning the paint, outscoring the Knicks in the first quarter 24 to 10 in the key. New York was mostly staying close thanks to some long bombs from Julius Randle, who was connecting even when there was a hand in his face. As the second units checked in, however, the key absences the Knicks were suffering hurt them as San Antonio simply had more depth. After a largely close score for most of the period, in the last few minutes of the opening frame, the Spurs’ subs carved up a nine-point lead.

As the starters checked back in the momentum continued to go the Spurs’ way, with Keldon Johnson putting together a strong stretch on offense to keep the Knicks, which were getting contributions from Evan Fournier to complement Randle, from staying close on the scoreboard. San Antonio’s lead quickly ballooned to 14 and the home team looked fully in control, scoring whenever the ball moved and the pace was high. The only big issue the Silver and Black had throughout the first half was keeping the Knicks off the free throw line, where a huge disparity allowed the visitors to slowly chip away at the deficit and stay within striking distance. Still, the Spurs made the most out of their size advantages on offense by feeding Sochan late in the second and maintained their physicality on defense, which was enough to secure them an 11-point lead at the break.

As the second half started, the Spurs remained locked in. They seemed aware that the Knicks were essentially relying on just two players while they could count on a team effort to stave off a comeback attempt. For most of the game, San Antonio looked like a veteran squad that carved out a lead early, understood that it needed to stay focused to keep it and was ready to manage it en route to an easy win. The ball was moving, the intensity on defense was still there, there were no major mistakes and Keldon Johnson was stepping up to score. The Knicks, on the other hand, understandably looked rattled and frustrated, directing too much attention to the officials at times and lacking answers from anyone other than Quickley and Randle. It seemed like the typical matchup in which a healthier team at home was going to prevail without much suspense.

Normally the fourth quarter wouldn’t be too intense in a game like that but the Spurs have had too many collapses and close calls for anyone to dismiss the possibility of a surprise and the Knicks were trying to exorcize the demons of their embarrassing loss to the Mavericks. Fans of both teams were ready for anything. Fortunately, despite some shaky moments, San Antonio never really crumbled under the pressure. New York got within eight with 3:17 to go but a Johnson bucket provided respite for the Silver and Black and the visitors ran out of time after receiving responses every time they tried to pull off a run. It’s tempting to say it should have been easier for the Spurs to win at home against a severely shorthanded opponent after leading comfortably heading into the final frame, but at this point actually getting the win in the end feels like progress.

Game notes

  • The Knicks had just three players scoring in double digits but two of them eclipsed the 30-point mark. Julius Randle had a massive 41-point, 11-rebound, seven-assist performance while Immanuel Quickley dropped 36 points, pulled down seven boards and dished out seven assists. Big night for those two, despite the loss.
  • The Spurs had two big performers of their own, as Keldon Johnson scored 30 points and Romeo Langford dropped a career-high 23 points. As impressive as those stat lines were, however, what won San Antonio the game was its depth, as 10 players scored and dished at least one assist. The second unit cracked the game open and everyone did their part to secure the W.
  • Jakob Poeltl had just nine points but he dominated the boards and was a big presence inside, completely neutralizing Mitchell Robinson. Zach Collins didn’t fill up the stat sheet but the team won the minutes in which he was on the court, which is what matters most. The centers delivered.
  • There were some solid performances by the veterans Doug McDermott, Josh Richardson and Stanley Johnson. They just did a little bit of everything, essentially acting as the supporting cast, which is exactly what they should be. When the older guys play well but don’t outshine the younger players, that’s always a positive for the rebuilding Spurs.
  • Malaki Branham came back to earth after some really impressive performances, going 1-for-7 from the field and not really making any huge impact in other areas. Jeremy Sochan, on the other hand, had some really strong stretches and finished with 12 points, five rebounds and four made one-handed free throws in four attempts.

Play of the night

The Spurs were looking for size advantages in the post most of the night so Keldon Johnson got a couple of opportunities to show that he could potentially be a go-to scoring option against smaller defenders. It was great to see how patient he was before making a decisive move and getting an easy bucket.

Next game: Vs. Dallas Mavericks on Saturday

The Spurs will play their final game of 2022 against one of their rivals. Stopping Luka Doncic is impossible, but San Antonio will have to make him work for everything to have a chance.