9:33 am Nov. 16, 2012
If the New York Knicks had lost Thursday night, no one would have complained.
They were facing the San Antonio Spurs, a team off to a 7-1 start, and one with a track record of excellence that has gotten them to the playoffs every season since 1997-98, along with four N.B.A. titles in that span. Early results suggest that though some of the faces have changed, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and elite play will remain the same.
The Knicks hadn't won in San Antonio since Allan Houston willed them to victory with 36 points back in 2003. That made San Antonio's ability to shut down Carmelo Anthony offensively, and take a 12-point lead roughly midway through the fourth quarter, anything but a surprise.
The Knicks had played well in San Antonio, acquitted themselves nicely thanks to Anthony's willingness to find teammates in response to a defense designed to force him to force shots, but it simply wouldn't be enough. Nor would a defense that had provided effort, but couldn't keep Tony Parker out of the late or Tiago Splitter, of all people, from scoring in the final quarter, be enough just yet.
And then the Knicks went out and dominated.
Down 89-77 with seven minutes to go, the Knicks outscored the Spurs 23-6 over the next six-and-a-half minutes to eliminate San Antonio's lead and then, incredibly, take control of the game.
Once again, though he was on the court for the run, Anthony did not score. He did not even take a shot. The Spurs made certain that they collapsed on Anthony, and quickly, every time he had the ball, forcing him to give it up, making the kind of quick decisions that he seldom did in past seasons.
The results were as they've been so far this year, which is to say, the attention on Anthony led to open teammates, and those teammates took advantage.
Foremost among those who benefited was Raymond Felton, who scored 25 points on repeadedly open looks from the perimeter, and an ability to get to the basket thanks to a defense overcommitted to Anthony.
J.R. Smith, too, picked up the offense, scoring 17 points without generally forcing poor shots, an easy trap against the Spurs, even for players who haven't made a career of doing so. The phrase "Smith wisely pulls it back out" was heard not once, but twice during the broadcast.
It still looked like it wouldn't be quite enough. The Knicks rebounded a Tony Parker miss, with 2:15 to go in the game, but the Spurs held defensively, forcing Felton to take a three-pointer that he missed. With two minutes to go, the Spurs had the ball and a one-point lead.
But the Knicks weren't finished astonishing. The Spurs seldom turn the ball over, but the Knicks forced one from Manu Ginobili. Instead of pushing a fast break in which they didn't hold the advantage, they quickly but patiently swung the ball around the perimeter until Smith found himself with a wide-open three, which he made to give the Knicks a 97-95 lead.
The next sequence was even crazier, with a normally efficient Spurs attack pressured into a shot-clock violation, complete with an aggressive closeout from Anthony to make even a shot attempt impossible. The Knicks then came down the court, patiently but quickly passed, and found Jason Kidd for the open three. 100-95, one minute left. Ballgame.
A loss on Thursday night would have left Mike Woodson's Knicks with a still-strong 5-1 record, and in a perfectly good position moving forward.
But this win was something special. the Knicks' execution Thursday night, in key sequences offensively and defensively on the road against N.B.A. royalty, suggests that results like this shouldn't come as a surprise anymore.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
Though overshadowed by the Knicks, the Nets are still on the right track too, with a 102-97 win over the Boston Celtics Thursday night moving them to 5-2.
David Cone believes the Blue Jays have moved ahead of the Yankees, thanks to their trade with the Marlins.
The Red Bulls declined options on four players Thursday: Teemu Tainio, Jan Gunnar Solli, Bill Gaudette and Jose Angulo. That useful players like these four, particularly Solli and Gaudette, were surplus to needs reflects on the depth of the team's roster, and how ridiculous it is that they haven't won a playoff series in any of the past three seasons.
Alabama and Villanova posted wins in the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden Thursday night, with a physical battle between the two teams expected in the event's championship Friday night.