The next-man-up Knicks were down a man but rose up to take down another foe last night, besting the San Antonio Spurs 102-98 at Madison Square Garden. A ragged affair early become a barnburner late, with the second half a tale of two halves. Each quarter brought a new New York savior to the spotlight, a microcosm of a season where heroes abound.
The opening frame continued the ‘90s theme the Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers worked within Tuesday; midway through neither New York nor San Antonio had reached double-digits. But Julius Randle was the best player on the floor and showed it, notching 14 of the Knicks’ 20 first quarter points, and their 9-0 run bridging the first and second quarter hinted that the better team would pull away.
Unfortunately continuing another theme from the Laker game and other stretches the season, the Knicks struggled on the defensive glass, particularly keeping Jakob Poeltl and Drew Eubanks off the offensive boards. New York was struggling without Sixth Man Derrick Rose, out with a sprained ankle, and struggling from deep. Alec Burks was back after missing the last three games and 11 of the past 13. Tom Thibodeau promptly threw him out there for 34 minutes, the most he’s seen since March. Burks delivered 14 in the second.
Slightly helped by Taj here but idc idc Burks killed Patty pic.twitter.com/0phSgkRbxC— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) May 14, 2021
Halftime saw the Knicks up 46-43 with the two teams combining for zero fast-break points. All that was missing to complete the 1999 flashback was some J-Lo.
The second half got started and the Spurs couldn’t miss. They hit their first shot. Then another. Then another. Then another. Then another. Then another. Then another. Then another. Then another. Then another. Then another. Then another. Then another. San Antonio went up as many as 17. Their streak of makes was dented a bit by the official scorer changing a Eubanks turnover to a miss, but still: when a technicality is doing a better job of stopping the other team than your defense, you got problems. With Randle scoreless over the second quarter and most of the third, the Knicks had major problems. With RJ Barrett in tow, the Knicks have solutions, too.
RJ triple and then a Taj block— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) May 14, 2021
We got a little ENERGY back in the Knicks now pic.twitter.com/cD8RI7O8mF
Barrett put up 11 in the third and opened the fourth with one of his five 3s on the night; he’s only a handful away from doubling his total from last season. Randle drove and dished to Burks to put New York ahead, capping a 21-2 Knick run. After hitting 13 in a row to open the second half, the Spurs missed 10 of 11. Meanwhile RJ couldn’t miss, drilling six in a row to keep the Knicks moving. Speaking of movement...
That Burks trey put the Knicks up five. He scored 16 in the fourth, a sentence that now feels so commonplace I feel light years apart from the start of this season. DeMar DeRozan did his best to give the Spurs a chance, scoring nine straight late.
But in this brave new world the Knicks should beat the Spurs, and they did, thanks to them making all 18 of their free throws. They’re 19-4 when holding teams under the century mark. More importantly, they remain tied with Atlanta and Miami for the East’s fourth-best record heading into the final weekend of the season. Brave new world for sure.
- A season-high 30 for Burks to go with five 3s and 10 rebounds. If you took a poll...wait. We can take that poll. We have the technology.
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- RJ draining corner 3s is starting to get familiar. I can close my eyes and see Darryl Strawberry pulling a home run, Mike Piazza hitting an opposite-field shot, Sergie Zubov skating, Patrick Ewing’s turnaround. May Barrett corner 3s reach that same place in paradise.
- Per Kenny Albert: RJ is the only player in the Eastern conference to start all of his team’s games this season.
- Perhaps in honor of Rose being unavailable, Thibs made most of the team mostly unavailable. This one was all Randle, RJ and Reggie Bullock — the Knicks’ oxygen — plus Burks in place of Elfrid Payton, Taj Gibson splitting the pivot with Nerlens Noel, Immanuel Quickley getting a few minutes ‘cuz his uncle used to be somebody back the day or something and Frank Ntilikina playing his legally required just-long-enough-to-do-some-good-things-and-then-disappear minutes. If their health holds, it’s that plus Derrick Rose and that’s it. That’s your playoff rotation.
- Randle found Taj a couple times quite beautifully after driving baseline, then dropping it to him on the move into the paint. Gibson couldn’t score, but it’s a pretty little motif. Imagine this team with a rebounding center with good hands.
- I do not remember a Knick guard ever getting his shot blocked as much as Elf has this year.
- So that’s four 3s plus the usual defensive excellence Ntilikina brings over the last two games. He helped stop a last-minute Dejounte Murray drive and looked to have forced DeRozan into a fatal turnover out of bounds but the refs called a blocking foul ‘cuz refs are people too.
Just a little casual elite defense by Frank to end the 1st pic.twitter.com/VStBY9wi8R— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) May 14, 2021
- Yo, for God’s sake, NBA: please make fouls that stop fast breaks two free throws plus possession. Breakaway dunks are fun, you know? Can we see more of that?
- Someone at MSG a fan of my work?
- After 29 years calling Knicks games and a record 16 straight NBA Finals, Mike Breen is headed to the Hall of Fame and will receive this year’s Curt Gowdy Award. The Dodgers and Steelers are blessed with long-standing top-level managers and coaches. The Knicks have been blessed with 21 years of Marty Glickman, 37 of GOAT Marv Albert and now nearly three decades with Breen. Bless that man.
Quoth Russ: “That win felt good.” It did. I felt they could and pro’ly should come back from the 17-point deficit, and once they pulled ahead I was confident they’d win. Two more games before the playoffs come in late May. Saturday the Knicks host Charlotte. Both teams are angling for playoff positioning. LaMelo is back. Hopefully Rose will be, too. Even if he’s not, someone else will pro’ly step up. C’est la Knicks.