Every losing streak reaches an end. Unless the Knicks played exceptional basketball, a game on the road against a league-best team that was seeking to avenge an embarrassment just weeks prior wasn't going to mark that end. The Knicks played with more verve and much better defense than we've seen recently, but it would have taken a minor miracle (not unlike the season's second best offensive performance earlier this month) to beat these Spurs again. With just 38% shooting and misfiring from pretty much every major offensive weapon, New York fell well short of that miracle. They still managed to make a game out of it, though, and that's a step in the right direction.
Take the jump for notes.
- The Spurs defended exceptionally, but the Knicks didn't really do themselves any favors. DeJuan Blair, Tim Duncan, and their minions put the clamps on Amar'e Stoudemire by swarming him every time he made for the hoop. It seemed like the Spurs were willing to grant Stoudemire any outside shot, but Amar'e couldn't really exploit that, shooting just 3-7 on jumpers. San Antonio was similarly apt to collapse on pick-and-rolls, so when Stoudemire (or any other roller) made his move, Raymond Felton found himself open, but just couldn't connect.
- That's really why I found Rohpuri's comment in the game thread appropriate for tonight's headline. Even against good pick-and-roll defenses, the Knicks of early December could find and convert open jumpers- an "easy button" to push when the paint was clogged. Recently, Felton hasn't been able to make those pull-up Js, Wilson Chandler has gone cold on his signature curls and step-backs, and nobody else is filling the void. It seems to me like guys are getting decent attempts, but are just slumping in unison. (Maybe it's all the trade talk. Maybe WE'RE the problem!)
- Felton's slump is the most damning. Defenses can now afford to sag off him, and some aspect of his point guardsmanship-- his confidence, his choice of passing lanes-- is dwindling. Felton shot just 8-21 (though 3-4 from downtown and 6-11 in the second half...) and committed six turnovers, all while getting run ragged by Tony Parker on the other end.
- Danilo Gallinari played a somewhat aggressive game, though he missed a few decent looks and shot 5-13. When you see Gallo's knack for drawing and selling fouls (6-6 from the line tonight), you wonder why get the ball for a dribble-drive every other possession. The guy folds like a push puppet (in a good way). On the other hand, I still wish he'd just go up strong at the rim. Selling calls seems to work better off the dribble than it does in mid-air.
- The usual problems (getting shook off screens, giving up good post position, surrendering offensive rebounds to short but ursine big men) notwithstanding, the Knicks were much more active defensively than in recent games. Ronny Turiaf and Toney Douglas were the major impetuses (impeti?) behind that effort. Turiaf didn't score much after his eight first quarter points, but he put in a sturdy night's work in the paint, despite what Tim Duncan's line might tell you. Douglas, for his part, did what Toney Douglas do on a number of defensive possessions. He outperformed Felton in terms of denying Tony Parker the ball and keeping up with him in the event that he got it. Toney spent a great deal of time on the floor, which is evidence of either dogged pursuit of his man or extremely poor balance for a professional athlete. I'll give Toney the benefit of the doubt and take the former. He's still shooting as poorly as the rest of 'em, though.
- Those two were particularly effective in the first quarter, when the Knicks lost Amar'e Stoudemire to two quick fouls (one of which was a semi-intentional wrap-up of Blair. Sometimes you just give up the two points, big fella). In a nice stretch, the Knicks forced turnovers and got out in transition for tidy buckets. It was momentarily very splendid.
- Here's a Google image search for "tidy buckets", since you were totally gonna do it anyway. Them buckets are spotless.
- Shawne Williams pooped nicely (2-3 from downtown) and might have been more regular if he hadn't picked up 4 fouls in what seemed like about 12 seconds.
- Two fun moments: 1. In a loose ball situation, Tim Duncan got poked in the eye something fierce. Amar'e Stoudemire, meanwhile, tracked down the ball, scoped out Duncan doubled over in pain under his own rim, and dunked right over him anyway. 2. Amar'e leaped out of bounds to grab a loose ball he'd poked away from DeJuan Blair, couldn't find any teammate open, saw Blair beached across the baseline directly below him, and simply dropped the ball on him. Two giggles for disrespect.
- Speaking of Blair, I'm sure I've said this before, but I'm absolutely positive he played lacrosse in a previous life.
- Down 11 at halftime, the Knicks made a game of it in the third by forcing some turnovers and contesting shots more actively while Felton did a better job facilitating on the other end. They won that quarter 21-16, which meant the game was still within reach (6 points) heading into the fourth. I think that's a pretty good sign, but I also think my socks are a good place to wipe boogers, so you probably shouldn't listen to me.
- Walt Frazier, at that point in the action (when the Knicks were shooting under 40% and had only attempted six free throws): "You'd think they'd be getting blown out, but it's the antithesis of that right now". I'm not sure that a six-point deficit is the antithesis of a blow-out, but you're Clyde and you reference The Temptations when there's a tie-up, so we're cool.
- I like Larry Owens. He seems eager and has a kind face.
I'm not too bent out of shape over this one. The Spurs just weren't going to let the Knicks beat them twice, and it did seem like New York emerged from their doldrums, even if shots weren't falling. I think this streak will near its end soon, (but again, I also think chap stick is edible, so seek a second opinion). The Knicks have another toughie in Oklahoma City tomorrow night, followed by a mini home stand against the Wizards and Heat. I've got a good feeling about one of the next two (particularly the one against the team that has yet to win on the road), but somehow beating the Heat would be pretty excellent as well. For now, I bid you goodnight.