They would surely have liked the manner to be different and the outcome of the meeting to be less disputed, but the essential is there for the Knicks : victory at the final buzzer (117-114). The third in a row to start the year 2023, after a series of five consecutive defeats to complete the previous year a few days ago.
Because despite the unflattering record of Spurs (12-25 before the match), which reflects a weak level this season (28th best offensive evaluation, 30th and last defensive evaluation), Gregg Popovich’s men valiantly and bravely played their chances on the parquet floor of Madison Square Garden, where the 20,000 or so New Yorkers were scared to the end. The outcome of the match being decided on the ultimate possession, an equalizing shot from Keldon Johnson triggered too late, after a very good defensive sequence from the locals.
In a meeting resolutely focused on the attack (48% on shots for the Knicks, 50% for the Spurs), this is how Jalen Brunson who was the providential man for the Knicks: 38 points at 17/27 on shots, his new career high, as well as 7 rebounds and 6 assists. Delicious with ease, he constantly dissected the opposing defense on “pick-and-roll”, and clearly carried his team on his shoulders. Well helped in the task by an incredible Julius Randlegreedy and clumsy (9/2§ on shots), but heroic in effort, with 25 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks!
Before trying to secure a revenge in Toronto against the Raptors at the end of the week, and at the same time a fourth consecutive success, the Knicks thus garner confidence by winning, admittedly more difficult than expected, the matches against the teams weaker.
WHAT YOU MUST REMEMBER
– Jalen Brunson, calibre All-Star. Already very good against the Suns, a game that marked his comeback after missing the previous three outings with a sore hip, the Knicks point guard pulled out all the stops to spare his team a nasty surprise against the modest but tough Spurs. Author this season of the best basketball of his career, he reached the climax of this prosperous period against the often naive Spurs on “pick-and-roll”. Recalling that despite a more limited physique than some of the other players in his position, he remained a racy attacker of very high caliber in this league, and more broadly a formidable conductor and stabilizer for his people. His fourth quarter, during which he scored 5 of his 8 shots to repel Spurs still in ambush, was particularly impressive. There will be competition in the Eastern Conference, but it’s no longer a shadow of a doubt: Jalen Brunson deserves the first All-Star Game of his career next month in Utah.
– The Knicks are doing well. “Thank you Jalen”. These may have been the words of the former Villanova teammates in the locker room after the narrow victory. Because without him, defeat was certain, and it might even have been severe. Because the Knicks fished defensively, leaving the third least effective attack in the league to reach 50% success, including almost 40% behind the arc… Quite surprising, when you know that Jalen Brunson’s teammates, before the game, were in the Top 10 of the “Defensive Rating” (9th with 112.1 points against 100 possessions, precisely). The Spurs were particularly successful, it must be recognized, but the men of “Thibs” still lacked concentration and rigor, particularly on “pick-and-roll”, in the axis.
TOPS & FLOPS
✅ Julius Randle. Based on attack alone, the Knicks strong winger was ineffective, scoring 25 points on 26 shots while losing five balls. But his level of effort in all other areas ultimately compensates for this awkwardness in shooting, the n°30 persevering aggressively to remain useful on the pitch. A match certainly founding for the second part of his season.
✅ Immanuel Quickley. The usual sixth men of the Knicks, holder for the fifth time in a row in the absence of RJ Barrett, never stops chaining good outings. In the role of the third thief, in relay of Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle, the former wisp of Kentucky went to tickle the triple-double: 15 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists, for a single loss of ball. As the months pass, the third-year point guard becomes an increasingly reliable secondary ball carrier.
⛔️ Mitchell Robinson. Bothered very quickly by the faults (3 at half-time, 5 at the start of the “money-time”) the pivot holder of New York could only spend 13 minutes on the boards of the “MSG”. Enough to collect 5 points and 5 rebounds, but quite insignificant on the extent of the meeting. His long absences have also heavily penalized the Knicks, little deterrent in the racket without their circle protector (46 points against).
✅ Keldon Johnson. The Spurs winger gave the Knicks defense a few cold sweats, in particular by placing enormous pressure on their circle (10/12 on free throws). Clumsy in the first half, he found his rhythm after the break, indeed collecting baskets from the circle. Unfortunately, he missed the equalizer shot, which he had triggered after the buzzer anyway.
✅ Zach Collins. The former Portland prospect, when spared the physical glitches, is showing good things in Texas. During this match, his ease on pick-and-roll and his agreement with a good Tre Jones (14 points and 6 assists) were pleasant to see. In particular, we saw him unhesitatingly trigger shots at mid-range when leaving the screen, and intelligently negotiate phases at the low post. He compiled 16 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists.
– Knicks (21-18) : trip to Toronto, Friday night to Saturday (1:30 a.m.)
– Spurs (12-26) : reception of the Pistons, on the night of Friday to Saturday (02:00)