The San Antonio Spurs came up agonizingly short of a furious second-half comeback against the New York Knicks, 117-114, failing to find any solution to contain a blistering Jalen Brunson. Although the youngsters staged several strong runs to make things interesting down the stretch, they couldn’t create enough daylight to get up a shot to force overtime.
Keldon Johnson paced the Silver and Black with 26 points, seven boards, and two assists, as Josh Richardson chipped in 20 points and three dimes off the pine. Jalen Brunson led the charge for New York, scoring a career-high 38 points along with seven rebounds and six assists. Julius Randle also contributed to the victory with 25 points, 13 boards, and four blocks.
- Jalen Brunson missed the first matchup between these interconference opponents, but he made his presence felt early this go-round at Madison Square Garden. The fifth-year guard burst past Tre Jones for the opening bucket of the contest and danced on Jeremy Sochan before drilling a midrange jumper that forced head coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout with his team trailing 2-10. Brunson never took his foot off the gas, torching the Spurs for a career-high 38 points with an array of fancy footwork and dazzling dribble combinations.
- Julius Randle was on an unbelievable heater in the seven games leading up to tonight, averaging 32.4 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 4.9 assists while establishing an airtight case for the second All-Star appearance of his career. San Antonio got a taste of how difficult it is to stop the 28-year-old power forward when he detonated for 41 points against them a week ago. But they did a much better job of corralling him on Wednesday night, holding him to 25 points on 9-of-26 (34.6%) shooting from the field and five turnovers.
- More scoring responsibilities fell on Keldon Johnson since Devin Vassell sat out this game to manage nagging knee soreness, which meant the Knicks could focus more defensive attention on stopping the fourth-year combo forward. Despite their attempts to fortify the interior, Keldon lowered his shoulder with a flurry of physical drives to the rim and got to the charity stripe six times in the first quarter. Johnson continued acting as a human battering ram throughout the game, attacking the basket with reckless abandon for more trips to the free throw line and a handful of layups and floaters.
- Stanley Johnson has probably seen more action than fans expected, appearing in every game for head coach Gregg Popovich since San Antonio signed him off the free-agent market three weeks ago. The veteran journeyman scored eight points off the bench in the second quarter, including a layup that gave the Spurs their first lead. His success in Silver and Black has been astonishing, especially considering he only scored seven points in 58 minutes in his brief stint in the G League earlier this season.
- The Spurs have trailed by double digits in eight of their last eleven games, and they dug themselves into another significant hole in the opening frame in New York. Despite trailing by as many as 13 points to the Knicks, San Antonio fought back into the contest and entered halftime with a more manageable deficit. They went back and forth with New York in the second half but ultimately slipped to 0-23 when trailing by ten points this season.
- Zach Collins has been in perpetual foul trouble since returning from a fibula fracture that sidelined him in November. Only three players have committed more fouls during that stretch, and his penchant for physicality relegated him to another premature trip to the bench in the middle of the second quarter. Though he got a little too handsy on the defensive end, he made the most of his minutes on the other side of the court, scoring 16 points and dishing out a trifecta of assists without a single miss or turnover to his name.
- Depth has been one of San Antonio’s greatest strengths. And with a second unit that scores more points than anyone in the league, their reserves often help keep them competitive. That was certainly the case tonight, as their bench contributed 61 of their 114 points in the Big Apple. Doug McDermott and Zach Collins each reached double figures, but no one was more important than Josh Richardson. The eighth-year swingman notched 20 points and four assists off the pine and gave the Silver and Black a much-needed spark when they fell behind by a sizable margin in the first half.
- Jeremy Sochan is fresh off his Western Conference Rookie of the Month nomination, so you might think the energetic forward would have an extra pep in his step in the most famous basketball arena in the world. The 19-year-old swiss army knife was everywhere on the hardwood, yet he failed to score for the first time in his young NBA career. He was also on the wrong end of a five-second violation in crunch time that gave the Knicks the ball back with 5.7 seconds left in regulation. Sochan hung his head walking into the tunnel after the loss, but hopefully, this is a meaningful learning experience for him.
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The San Antonio Spurs return to the friendly confines of the AT&T Center on Friday for a date with the Detroit Pistons.