AT&T CENTER – “I think we played about 15 minutes as aggressively as they did. We should be embarrassed about how soft we played tonight.”
Those were the words from San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich as his team lost at home 105-101, to a Knicks team that came in with just 9 wins all year.
In the last five games, the word “embarrassing” came out of Popovich’s mouth once more regarding the passion and energy his team played with in their two losses during that span.
Outside of Marco Belinelli (32 points on 12-of-16 shooting, 6-of-9 from three), the starting unit struggled to find a solid pace and rhythm while the defense as a whole continues to be an ongoing issue as Iman Shumpert scored 27 points on 10-of-13 shooting, while Carmelo Anthony returned to the Knicks’ lineup for 27 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists in a win for the Knicks.
The Knicks and Spurs played fairly even early in the first quarter with a Knicks 26-25 lead. Then, the Spurs’ bench unit would provide a spark to begin the second quarter with a 13-3 run as they took a 9-point lead. The Spurs’ starters would return to the game and struggle to finish the quarter as the Knicks took a slim five-point lead into the half.
In the third quarter, with Kawhi Leonard getting into foul trouble, the Knicks were paced by Anthony as they built an 11-point lead at one time to go into the final period leading by six points. In the fourth quarter, facing a 9-point deficit, the Spurs got much needed help from Belinelli and an aggressive Leonard.
With 2:34 left, Leonard tied the game with a fast-break layup at 96. At 2:01, Tim Duncan made a lay-up to give the Spurs a 98-96 lead. Belinelli and Shumpert would each knock down back-to-back 3-pointers to tie the game at 101 with 37.0 seconds left.
Like the 2013 NBA Finals, it was once again the inability to grab a defensive rebound in a clutch moment that led to another Spurs loss. With 23.4 seconds remaining, Anthony shot a contested 3-pointer from the corner, Belinelli didn’t fully box out Shumpert and Shumpert tipped in a 103-101 basket for the Knicks. From there, the Knicks finished the game at the free throw line.
“We made some crazy mistakes on offense and defense,” said Belinelli. “I made a mistake, and we lost the game.”
“On defense, I didn’t box out when Shumpert scored,” clarified Belinelli.
Notice how Shumpert is in front of Belinelli before he jumps for the offensive rebound:
Marco Belinelli: Belinelli scored 10 points in the first quarter by knocking down two 3-pointers while Beno Udrih was defending him. He had another 10-point quarter in the third and finished with six in the fourth.
As the Spurs’ other starters struggled, Duncan said Belinelli’s production was enough to give them a chance.
“Belinelli played great and gave us enough offense to keep us in the game,” said Duncan, “we just couldn’t put stops together.”
“I don’t really care,” said Belinelli of his career high scoring night. “When we lose the game, especially like this, I don’t really care about my points.”
Here’s Belinelli’s shot chart:
Iman Shumpert: Shumpert was also productive in the first quarter with 10 points mainly while Tony Parker was guarding him. Not only should he be praised for his 27 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals, but he knocked down 6-of-8 3-pointers. One of the biggest impacts Shumpert had on the game was holding Parker to 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting and 7 assists. Late in the fourth, with a chance to stretch their lead, Parker missed a key layup he usually makes with Shumpert defending him.
If you’re a Knicks fan, frame Shumpert’s shot chart:
Carmelo Anthony: Anthony returned from injury and basically did what he wanted for a majority of the game to the Spurs’ defense as Leonard got into early foul trouble. The Spurs constantly had to double-team him when they put Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, and Danny Green on him. Anthony also shot 50% from the floor on the night.
Manu Ginobili: Though he didn’t have his best shooting night (4-of-11), Ginobili kept the offense running with 11 points and 12 assists off the bench. The Spurs especially needed his playmaking ability with Shumpert locking up Parker.
The Spurs’ Bench: The Spurs’ bench outscored the Knicks’ bench 34-27 and the bench tallied 13 assists.
· Minus Marco, starter struggles: Minus Belinelli, the Spurs’ starting unit of Leonard, Parker, Duncan, and Tiago Splitter finished a combined 12-of-32 shooting for 35 points.
· Defensive woes continue: The defensive issues of the Spurs continued to plague them as they gave up three quarters of 26, 26, and 29 points. The Knicks shot 51.3% on the night, 52.9% from three, and 18-of-20 from the free throw line.
· Spurs’ defense not that great all year: Though their defense looked superior in the month of November and started slipping in December, Popovich said don’t put too much stock into what the deceiving numbers of November.
“I don’t think there’s anything different,” said Popovich postgame when asked if the Spurs are doing anything differently on defense lately. “I don’t think we’ve been that great all this year defensively. I mean the numbers might show something, but I don’t think we had a very tough schedule at the beginning of the year.”
Where they stand: With the loss, the Spurs fell to 25-8 on the season. They moved to 12-5 at home, they are 16-1 against teams that are .500 or below, and 11-2 against the Eastern Conference. They hold the 4th highest Net Rating in the NBA at +7.9. They’re 4th in offensive rating at 107.1 points per 100 possessions, and their defense ranks 5th in the league at 99.3 points per 100 possessions.
Up Next: The schedule doesn’t get easier for the struggling Spurs who are 6-4 in their last 10 games as they host the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday at the AT&T Center. The Clippers have already beaten the Spurs once this season with a depleted roster.