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Knicks 126, Spurs 105: Scenes from our center dominating your center

Mitchell Robinson outperforms Wemby and three Knicks starters top 20 points apiece in a commanding win over San Antonio.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at New York Knicks
Twister, center court.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

When the Knicks play tight defense, drain almost half their three pointers, and protect the ball like stingy Scrooges (four turnovers!), one can easily get dreamy about what their ceiling might be. Of course, it helps when the opponent is the lottery bound San Antonio Spurs (3-5), even if they do have this year’s much-heralded number one draft pick.

Madison Square Garden was filled to capacity (approx. 19,763) to see that celebrated rookie, the 7’4” Victor Wembanyama. Unfortunately, the MSG lights were too bright for the French import. Meanwhile, New York Knick Mitchell Robinson—coming off a 13-point, 15-rebound game against the Clippers—barely broke a sweat against the Spurs’ frontcourt while collecting eight points and 12 boards. He was by far the best center in tonight’s contest. The second-best? Isaiah Hartenstein. As Richard Pryor said, “And deep, too!”

Thanks to strong performances by their centers, RJ Barrett, Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, and Immanuel Quickley, the Knicks commanded a game from buzzer to buzzer for the first time this season. Your final: 126-105.

First Quarter

As usual, RJ Barrett put the first points on the board. His three, plus four from Quentin Grimes triggered a quick timeout by Gregg Popovich. After that, five straight by Randle increased the lead to 13-0. San Antonio would not get any closer for the rest of the game.

The great offense from Monday night’s second half carried over for the Knicks, who shot 5-of-9 from deep through the first 12 minutes. Beyond that, the ball movement was superb, with first quarter assists logged by Brunson, Barrett, Quickley, Quentin Grimes, and Randle. The team stayed alert for quick outlet passes, yet still protected the ball. Fast paced and not sloppy—the clouds parted and the angels sang amidst the glorious glow of pretty basketball.

Both teams played with pace, but the Spurs had converted only 39% of their field goals, and missed all five of their first quarter three-point attempts. The Knicks had outrebounded their opponent by almost 2-1, and Mitch owned the paint so far tonight. From rebounds to tip-ins to alley-oops, Lobzilla was an unstoppable beast.

Tough defense and better than usual shooting (52% FG, 5-of-9 from deep) meant the Knicks rode a 33-16 lead into the next frame.

Second Quarter

Quickley continued to work quietly and effectively. IQ logged only 22 minutes in the last game, but with a third of Q2 complete, he had already played eight minutes, scored six points, and dished three assists on 3-of-5 shooting. His contributions to a 7-0 run helped goose the lead to 21 points, and Pop needed another timeout.

New York would hit a cold streak, missing five straight field goals, but then Quickley dropped seven points and San Antonio’s momentum faded. Through the half, Quickley and Brunson would both contribute 13 points apiece.

Both Knicks centers played aggressively tonight. Not only did Mitch tear up the paint, Isaiah Hartenstein had an early three-point play in the second quarter. In his first nine minutes, Hartenstein recorded seven points, two boards, and two steals.

Thibs brought all the starters back in to close the quarter. A so-so night for Brunson turned around toward the end of the frame, when he ran his point total with a couple three-pointers. A Jeremy Sochan three at the end of the half cut the Knicks’ lead to 65-51, which looked much closer than it felt.

Over the first half, Mitchell Robinson had scored eight points, seven rebounds, and made half of his free throws. As for the Spurs big fella, Wemby had given an anti-climactic performance. The 12-foot Frenchman scored only two points on 0-of-5 shooting through his first 15 minutes.

Excellent discipline and tremendous shooting defined the Knicks’ first half. They had committed only three personal fouls and coughed up only three turnovers. As for the offense, they hit 48% from the field to San Antonio’s 50%, but far outdid their opponent from deep, 47% to 29%.

Your halftime shot chart:

Knicks’ first half shot chart

Third Quarter

RJ Barrett initiated the scoring again with his third three-pointer on five attempts so far. Grimes added a triple of his own, and coach Pop called for a breather with his team down again by 20 points.

Julius Randle padded six straight points onto the total and New York leaped ahead by 26 points; then RJ canned a triple to make it 29, their largest lead of the season. Meanwhile, San Antonio’s French phenom struggled some more. He wouldn’t deposit his first field goal of the game until late in Q3. He wasn’t alone, though, with his cohorts making only one of their nine long-range attempts this quarter.

Note: RJ Barrett is breezing through this game. So far, 21 points while sinking 54% from the floor and five of his nine triples. Our boy has arrived.

Fourth Quarter

Down 99-72, Pop had the Spurs playing for their dignity. They shot 8-of-8 through the first half of the quarter, cutting the defict to 14. Thibs had to re-insert the starters, save for Grimes, replaced by Quickley. Robinson missed two free throws.

The only real bummer tonight was that the starters had work so late in a game that New York had commanded by 30 points, and it’s slightly concerning that the Knicks couldn’t close out this glorified G-League team sooner.

By midway through the quarter, a Randle three-pointer juiced the lead to 17 again, but Wemby converted a three-point play. Once again, Jalen Brunson drew multple charges and took a knee to the chest for his third, just before hitting his fifth three-pointer. Randle responded with some bully ball, and in a blink, the lead was 21. At last, the outcome was certain. Pop emptied his bench with three minutes to go, and soon after the Garden faithul would depart happily for home, having seen their team beat the much-heralded rookie.

Great balance to the offense tonight. Three Knicks starters scored over 23 or more points each. The Knicks committed only 14 fouls and four turnovers tonight. As a team, they shot 46% from the field, 45% from deep.

New York Starters

  • Jalen Brunson: 25 points, six assists, two boards, 8-of-19 FG, 5-of-8 3P, 33 minutes.
  • Quentin Grimes: eight points, three assists, one rebound, 3-of-5 FG, 2-of-4 3P, 19 minutes.
  • RJ Barrett: 24 points, six assists, two boards, one steal, 8-of-17 FG, 5-of-9 3P, 32 minutes.
  • Julius Randle: 23 points, 16 rebounds, five assists, one steal, one foul, two turnovers, 8-of-19 FG, 2-of-6 3P, 31 minutes.
  • Mitchell Robinson: eight points, 12 boards, one assists, three fouls, 31 minutes.

Up Next

A matinee game at noon on Sunday when the Charlotte Hornets come to town. The next day? New York vs. Boston in Boston. Two straight wins feels pretty good. Enjoy your well-deserved sleep tonight, Knickerbockers.

Box Score