As fun as the Spurs’ little 3-1 stretch was in what now seems like an eternity ago, featuring two double-digit, come-from-behind wins against the Rockets and Suns and another win while staving off a massive double-digit rally by Phoenix, we all knew deep down it was not a sustainable way to keep winning. The law of averages has proven this correct, as since then the Spurs have lost three straight games, including blowing a 20-point lead against the Raptors and two wire-to-wire blowout losses, first to the Pacers and then tonight against the Knicks with no comeback magic at their disposal.
The Knicks scored the first 13 points of the game before Zach Collins finally found Malaki Branham on a backdoor pass to break the ice. The Knicks also continued the trend of teams hitting lights out from three against the Spurs, going 5-7 in the first quarter compared to 0-5 for the Silver and Black. While for the most part the Spurs offense was getting decent looks, shots just weren’t falling, and they still looked lethargic and weren’t moving the ball as much. There were also several miscues on defense, and they found themselves down 33-16 after just 12 minutes of action.
After a slow start to the second quarter for both teams, the Spurs finally started to find some offensive life behind the bench play of Doug McDermott and Tre Jones off the bench, running the ball and getting out in transition. The lead got stretched out to 21 a couple of times, but the Spurs responded with some mini runs each time to keep it a ball game. Jeremy Sochan also found some offensive rhythm in the second quarter, scoring 8 of his 16 points, including their final five to trim the lead down to 14, 65-51, at halftime.
Unfortunately, any lessons learned from their mini-comeback and halftime talks about the defensive miscues didn’t resonate in the second half. The Knicks once again came out firing while the Spurs couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, shooting just 1-9 from three in the third quarter. The lead got as high as 30, but as they are wont to do, the Spurs at least tried to make things interesting in the fourth quarter.
They hit their first 8 shots to cut the lead down to 14 with seven minutes left and had two chances to cut it to 12, but in both cases they blew the next possession (Keldon Johnson missed two free throws, then McDermott committed a charge) before the Knicks responded with a three each time. Gregg Popovich emptied the bench once the deficit was back to 21 with just under three minutes left, and that was the end of another disappointing outing from the Spurs as they lost 126-105. If there is anything positive that could be said, it’s that they kept fighting and never completely folded in this one.
- Devin Vassell’s status was changed to available about 30 minutes before tipoff after recovering from a groin injury, but he came off the bench and only played 12 minutes in the first half. He unsurprisingly looked out of rhythm, hitting 2-6 shots for just four points, including a couple of badly missed threes. We’ll see if he’s back with the starting lineup on Friday, but hopefully he is and/or is ready for more minutes, because the Spurs desperately need his offense to get them going again.
- While the Spurs didn’t have a horrible shooting night from inside the arc (where they shot 35-56, 62.5%) and even had 31 assists, it was all the other scoring stats that won this one for the Knicks. They hit 10 more threes (which alone is more than the ballgame), seven more free throws, and had 13 more points off turnovers. Some of that is poor defense on the Spurs part (more on that below), and some is just rotten luck, but regardless it’s nearly impossible to win games under such scenarios.
- Before the fourth quarter tonight, when the Knicks “only” scored 27 points, you’d have to go all the way back to the second quarter against Toronto to find one in which the opponent scored fewer than 30 points on the Spurs. That’s NINE straight quarters of horrific defense (ten if you want to count overtime) and obviously the biggest thing the Spurs need to work on going forward. The offense will ebb and flow for the youngest team in the NBA, but if one thing can be consistent, it’s defensive effort and execution, and the Spurs have a long way to go in that department.
- Unlike some prior greats, Victor Wembanyama did not have a memorable Madison Square Garden debut. Outside of an 8-point spurt in the fourth quarter, he had a rough outing, hitting just 4-14 from the field for 14 points, 9 rebounds and 3 turnovers. He again looked a step slow and low on energy most of the night, and when he isn’t playing well, the Spurs are still the same team as last season (not surprising since it’s otherwise the same roster). The burden shouldn’t be on a 19-year-old to carry this team every night, and hopefully Vassell’s eventual complete return will help ease some of the pressure on Wemby.
Up next: Friday vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Spurs return home for their first In-season Tournament game against the rising Timberwolves. Will “home sweet home” finally get them going again, or will it be another struggle? Tune it to Bally Sports at 7:00 PM CT to find out. (And hopefully the Spurs’ tournament court is as relatively “pastel” as it’s been made out to be, because some of the others have been awful due to their brightness.)