The New York Knicks took on a depleted San Antonio Spurs team at home after a disappointing and frustrating performance Saturday night against the Celtics. Julius Randle made his first shot of the night and it actually looked like he might have one of those nights he can be prone to having when his jump shot is falling. Unfortunately, that would not be the case, as that ended up being his only make on a night he finished 1-for-7. While the Spurs never jumped out to a huge lead, they looked good to start the game thanks in large part to a balanced attack.
They ran their offense through a much improved Dejounte Murray, as they have for much of the season, while Josh Primo and Lonnie Walker IV chipped in a few baskets here and there. The Knicks managed to get a three-point lead late in the first after an RJ Barrett 3, but failed to score for the rest of the quarter, allowing the Spurs to take a three-point lead into the second. Due to Randle’s struggles, the Knicks should have been down big and would have been were it not for Barrett and Evan Fournier finding their grooves.
The second quarter was a bit better, as the Knicks outscored San Antonio 28-23. But the game was mostly another quarter of back and forth basketball. Now that doesn’t necessarily sound bad off the tongue, but considering the Spurs’ record (15-25; now losers of seven of eight) and roster, this is definitely a game the Knicks should have been winning without too much struggle. Alec Burks and Immanuel Quickley both had some nice baskets in the second to keep the Knicks afloat while Murray and Jakob Poeltl were leading the way for the Spurs. Barrett finished the half on a positive note with eight points in the last two and a half minutes, and even showed off his best Obi Toppin imitation with a windmill dunk. Being up only two against this Spurs team definitely was not the best feeling, but having a lead at all with Randle struggling to get anything going was a plus for sure.
The Knicks, as we all know, have been abysmal in 3rd quarters this season, so there was a lot to worry about, even with a two-point lead heading in to the second half. But this time the third ended up being a pretty good quarter for them. The first four minutes saw the two teams exchanging buckets. But after an early timeout, the Knicks got in a very nice groove. Barrett started things off by beautifully manipulating his way around a screen to get off a nice floater. After a forcing a Keita Bates-Diop miss, the Knicks quickly went into a Randle-Fournier dribble handoff, and got a foul on a 3-point attempt out of it. On their next position, Barrett downhill again found a rolling Taj Gibson for an easy dunk. Before Fournier was subbed out for Quentin Grimes, he hit a 3 to extend the lead to six.
To the delight of many Knicks fans, the team then played through Barrett for the next few possessions. He scored five straight to push the lead to nine, and after a Tyler Johnson miss from the corner Barrett called for the ball in the midpost, drew the double-team, then kicked it out to Grimes for a wide-open 3 to give the Knicks their first double-digit lead of the game. Barrett then capped off his great third quarter play with a huge block on Drew Eubanks at the rim to get the crowd on their feet.
But even with the Knicks offense looking great, they still made enough mistakes to keep the Spurs somewhat in it. Murray and Walker had some very timely baskets to keep their team in it and the Knicks ended up going into the fourth with just a seven-point lead. The Knicks used the momentum built in the third to jump out and start the fourth on a tear.
Barrett continued his hot night, scoring or assisting on the team’s first nine points of the quarter before subbing out with a 17-point lead. With the Knicks being inconsistent this year, especially at home, there was still a lot to worry about, considering the game Randle was having shooting. But those worries were put to rest immediately as the Knicks quickly (pun intended) used three long-range bombs to get out to a 23-point lead. Mike Breen alluded to how the most surprising part of this is that if you saw the shooting night that Randle had, you’d think the Knicks were the ones down big and how Randle, despite his shooting, did a great job of facilitating and allowing the others to carry the load. While he did hear some booing from the crowd at one point the quarter, Randle definitely handled the off night well by not forcing up shots or stat hunting.
Like Breen said, with the game pretty much decided and both teams playing a lot of their end-of-bench guys, it turned into a fast-paced playground-style game before they secured the win.
One thing to note, though, is that the crowd started changing Toppin’s name with a few minutes left and he was able to come into the game. Shortly after checking in, he threw down a monstrous double clutch dunk to cap off the night. While it was nice in a way to see the fans chanting for Toppin, it was a bittersweet reminder that Toppin, despite his great play when in the game, has somehow found his role reverted to one where he struggles to find consistent minutes.
Even the best teams in the league have off nights and lose like the Knicks did against the Celtics on Saturday. But the good teams make sure that they bounce back and get back in the win column before the losing becomes habitual and turns into big losing streaks. While the Knicks were the favorite tonight, playing at home against a depleted Spurs team, they took care of business, something good teams also do. They got a win, and did so comfortably with their best player struggling. Those are all also qualities of good teams, and while the Knicks still have glaring holes and improvements they need to make, it was nice to see them win a game relatively stress-free with Barrett dropping an efficient 31 points.
They play the Mavericks at home on Wednesday and if the past few meetings are any indication, this should be close and fun. We’re still waiting on the availability of former Knick Kristaps Porziņģis, but as long as Luka Dončić is playing, there should be plenty of highlights and enough reasons to tune in (editor’s note: including a certain French former Knick). The Knicks have some tough games to end the month and start February with games against Miami, Milwaukee, Memphis, the Lakers, Utah and Golden State, so every game counts, especially if they are to make a second-half run to the playoffs like last season.