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Lack of late-game execution costs Spurs as they miss opportunities to beat the Knicks

Despite a career 38 point game from Jalen Brunson, the Spurs had chances to win at the end, but mental errors kept them from getting shots to win or tie

San Antonio Spurs v New York Knicks Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

When you give a lot of responsibility to someone who isn’t ready, the results aren’t always pretty, and when Jeremy Sochan held onto the ball for 5 seconds on an inbound play with the Spur down by two, he failed. His teammates could have done more to help him, but he still had a timeout, and the referee standing next to him was counting down the time left. He had to use the timeout, but he didn’t. They always say that you learn more from failure than from success. I do think that Jeremy is the kind of person to take that to heart, as the whole team will, and the next time that they’re in this kind of end of game situation, you’ll see better execution and decision-making. It’s inevitable, and for a 19-year-old, it’s a way of life.

Already the team is way ahead of where they were earlier in the season, where they were playing competitive basketball for about 36 minutes in a 48 minute game. In December, they played some games for almost 40 minutes, where they would routinely give up big leads in the fourth quarter, only occasionally holding on long enough to steal a win. Tonight, they played a close game throughout, and even took the lead in the fourth quarter, despite Brunson gashing through the Spurs defense for points and assists with his strength and craftiness. Tonight was almost the mythical 48 minute game, but it turned out to be only 47 minutes and 54 seconds. A little improvement in those last few seconds could have resulted in a win for the Silver and Black in Madison Square Garden, which would have been an impressive step forward for the young team.

Instead, fans were treated to a fun spectacle where the Silver and Black showed that they’re still a work in progress, a team that’s sometimes dangerous like they were against the Knicks, and sometimes completely lifeless, like when they played against the Nets on Monday night. It’s all a process, and every loss brings the team closer to adding a superstar in the draft, a superstar that Jeremy Sochan can pass the ball to before time runs out, because he had the experience of not passing the ball on time tonight. The road to success is bumpy, and this season, the Spurs are in the big rocks, trying to steer their way back towards the paved road of title contention.

Keldon Johnson had a terrific night with 26 points and solid defense on Julius Randle who was held to a below-par 9-26 shooting game tonight by KJ and Stanley Johnson. Josh Richardson was terrific and did his part by making tough shots when the Spurs fell behind. Tre Jones had a quietly impactful game, which was needed because Malaki Branham was being used as the backup point guard and ran into a bit of a rookie wall tonight as he turned the ball over at times, didn’t shoot well, and had trouble stopping Brunson, who easily beat his defense with his craftiness. That experience will provide a lot of film for Pop to show to Makaki and help him to improve his game. Zach Collins had one of his best games offensively as a Spur, and showed that he has a lot of untapped offensive potential, which is something the Spurs will have to build on as the season goes on.

Game notes

  • I think that Tom Thibodeau has mellowed. I hardly even noticed him screaming from the bench. I like that for him, he’s probably going to live longer.
  • Jalen Brunson was the engine for the Knicks win, he started fast and finished strong. With Randle being somewhat contained, he was always there when they needed a score. I understand he wanted to be in New York, but I can’t believe the Mavericks didn’t try harder to keep him in Dallas, because he’s a hell of a player.
  • Josh Richardson is one of the few players on the Spurs that can create his own shot, and he kept them in the game with some key buckets at various points. I hope the Spurs can find a way to keep him on the roster for a while, because he could really be a key role player.
  • For much of the game, Malaki Branham was on Jalen Brunson, and the young Spurs was treated to a variety of step-backs, crossovers and subtle shoves as the former Mav schooled the young guard. It was quite a learning experience for the 19 year old.

Lesson of the night

Pop talks about the learning experience you get from games like this

Next game: vs Detroit Pistons on Friday

The Pistons are 10-30, and are one of the three teams in the league with fewer wins than the Silver and Black, mostly because their star player Cade Cunningham is out for the season with surgery to correct a stress fracture in his leg. This game should be a good opportunity for the Spurs to continue to improve and gain some confidence. It would be a mistake to assume the Silver and Black can pick a win, because the Pistons still have quite a few young and talented players and are well-coached, so it will be fun to watch and see how Pop’s team is progressing.