After dominating the Suns on Monday, the Knicks looked to take care of business against the 12-25 Spurs. Even with the poor record, the Spurs gave the Knicks a close game throughout, but they did not have enough to get past the heroics of Jalen Brunson as the Knicks won 117-114.
Brunson's Huge Night
Although Brunson missed a week due to a hip injury, he has not skipped a beat in his first two games off the injury report. He had 38 points on an efficient 17-27 from the field and 3-7 from the three point line. He also chipped in seven rebounds, six assists and a team high +14 plus/minus in a three-point game.
The Knicks desperately needed this performance from Brunson, as RJ Barrett remained out due to a finger injury. And although Julius Randle scored 25 points, he struggled to get there as he was a mere 9-26 from the field, 1-8 from three, and 6-11 from the free throw line.
What really made this performance by Brunson arguably his best in a Knicks uniform was his play throughout the 4th quarter. At the 8:28 mark in the 4th, the Knicks led the Spurs 102-98. Brunson proceeded to score or assist on the Knicks next 14 points. Those last two points came on this shot which gave the team the lead that would not be relinquished.
JB IS THAT DUDE. 38 POINTS. CAREER NIGHT.
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) January 5, 2023
Brunson's 38 points last night was a regular season career high, and with the way he stepped up down the stretch of this game, it may have been his best performance since coming to New York.
Knicks' Defense Steps Up When It Matters
Against a struggling Spurs team, the New York defense was certainly not at their best for most of the game. Keldon Johnson led the Spurs in scoring with 26 points. Johnson only made seven field goals and two three pointers, but the Knicks struggled to defend him without fouling. He made 10 of his 12 free throw attempts which is more than double his average attempts of 5.1.
The Spurs also got three big performances from their bench, specifically Zach Collins, Josh Richardson and Doug McDermott. Collins scored 16 points on 6-6 shooting from the field, Richardson scored 20 points on 9-14 shooting and McDermott scored 15 points on 5-7 shooting. The trio combined to shoot an incredibly efficient 20-27 from the field.
This output from the Spurs' bench was a drastic difference from the New York bench. With Barrett still injured, Immanuel Quickley remained in the starting lineup. And with Obi Toppin also injured, the bench scoring has really struggled. The Spurs' bench combined to outscore the Knicks bench a staggering 61-21.
Although the defense had a difficult time, the team stepped it up on that end in the final five seconds of the game. With 5.1 seconds remaining, the Spurs had were inbounding the ball off of a timeout and trailing 116-114. The Knicks played such great defense on the inbound that the Spurs were unable to inbound the ball as they were called for a five-second violation.
After getting the ball back, Tom Thibodeau subbed Evan Fournier into the game. Fournier would get the ball inbounded to him and got fouled with 3.9 seconds left. Fournier was only able to hit 1 of 2 free throws so the lead was only three points at 117-114.
The Spurs called a timeout to advance the ball to midcourt, only needing a three to tie the game. The ball would be inbounded to Johnson, however Quentin Grimes' defense was so tight that Johnson could not even attempt a shot before the final buzzer sounded. In a one possession game, the Spurs were unable to attempt a shot two different times in the final five seconds of the game, giving the Knicks a hard fought win.
The Knicks will look to extend their win streak to four against the Raptors on Friday night.