The New York Knicks turned some skeptics into believers on Thursday night, notching a 104-100 road win over the San Antonio Spurs in a
nationally televised game that lent some credence to the notion that their 5-0 start wasn't a fluke. But while the Knicks have won their first six games by doing just about everything right, they hadn't done so through about 3 1/2 quarters on Thursday, staring at a 12-point deficit after allowing San Antonio big man Tiago Splitter to score the Spurs' first 13 points of the fourth quarter.
From that point on, New York ripped off a hellacious 25-6 run spanning just under seven minutes, turning the game on its head and leaving the Spurs wondering what just happened. Well, the Spurs weren't alone — when I woke up this morning, I asked the same exact thing. How does a team as good as the Spurs give up that kind of burst?
As it turns out, the answer is pretty simple, but still pretty shocking — the Knicks did a way better job of executing in the pick-and-roll game than the Spurs did, and Raymond Felton straight-up outperformed Tony Parker, by a substantial degree, down the stretch. Here's how it all started to click for the Knicks, and how things fell apart for the Spurs:
• 7:13: After a Splitter and-one, San Antonio leads 89-77. Felton runs a high pick-and-roll with Tyson Chandler, with Parker going under the screen. Felton attacks the open space, beating Parker to the corner, absorbing a reach-in off a Kawhi Leonard dig-down and hitting a tough layup. He misses the free throw, leaving the lead at 10. Knicks 2-0.
• 6:25: Parker answers with a high pick-and-roll of his own and Splitter stuffs Felton. Chandler picks up the ball, but Parker, wary of Chandler's length, doesn't press his quickness advantage by driving; instead, he takes a slightly-fading-away jumper from the left elbow, which misses.
• 6:15: Felton, this time defended by Patty Mills, runs a side pick-and-roll with Chandler along the right boundary. Mills chases over the top, giving Felton an opportunity to penetrate the paint. Parker rotates off Jason Kidd to stop the ball, so Felton kicks to Kidd beyond the arc; Parker can't get back in time, so Kidd strokes the 3-pointer, cutting the lead to 89-82. Knicks 5-0.
• 6:00: Now it's Parker and Splitter's turn to run the right side pick-and-roll. Felton goes under the screen but stays right on Splitter's back and hustles hard to regain position in front of Parker. Felton rides along with Parker's drive, which ends in the lane with a pull-up over a good contest by Kidd. It misses and J.R. Smith rebounds.
Raymond Felton wreaked havoc with his penetration on Thursday night. (Getty Images)
• 5:08: After each team comes up empty on its next possession — a Splitter turnover on a difficult high-low pass to a cutting Parker in the lane, a missed Kidd long ball off an awkward J.R.-helmed iso/drive-and-kick — Parker pushes in transition, gets fouled by Kidd and hits one of two free throws, putting the Spurs up five. Knicks 8-1.
• 4:55: Felton dribbles down to the right corner and runs a side pick-and-roll with Chandler. Parker chases over the top of the screen this time, and like he did when Mills chased, Felton punishes him by putting him in a trail position and driving right at Tim Duncan. Felton avoids Leonard's reach-in attempt and finishes with a pretty reverse going left across the lane to bring New York within three. Knicks 10-1.
• 4:27: Parker runs a right side pick-and-roll with Duncan, which gobbles Felton up and forces Chandler to hedge hard to stop the ball. Parker still manages to turn the corner, forcing Smith to rotate to meet him before he can enter the paint. On the strong side of the play, Kidd and Carmelo Anthony have responsibility for Stephen Jackson, Manu Ginobili and Leonard, all positioned beyond the arc along the left side. Both Melo and Kidd get caught ball-watching on Parker's penetration, which leads to a kickout to Manu, who ball-fakes toward Leonard to freeze Kidd and pops a 3 over a late-contesting Anthony to put the Spurs back up by six. (He got the member's bounce off the AT&T Center's friendly rim, too.) This is the best-executed play the Spurs pull off in the final seven minutes. Knicks 10-4.
• 4:08: The Knicks go back to the high screen, but with a wrinkle; this time, instead of Chandler coming alone, he's joined by Anthony, which brings Jackson to the ball and away from the paint. Felton drives right around the double-screen, which Parker again chases over the top, putting him well behind the play as Felton turns into the paint. Luckily, Duncan's there to cover up, poking the ball away. Felton recovers and takes an out-of-rhythm step-back from the elbow that misses, but the Spurs knock the loose ball out of bounds.
On the ensuing baseline-out-of-bounds play, Kidd screens off Jackson so that Anthony can cut to the ball and receive the inbounds pass. Melo immediately elevates to represent a midrange J, drawing Duncan to contest, which frees Chandler to cut to the rim, enabling this to happen:
... making it 93-90 after the free throw. Knicks 13-4.
• 3:48: Defended by Kidd — a switch from what we've seen thus far — Parker pounds the rock while Ginobili runs from the right corner off a Duncan screen toward the left corner, then doubles back around a second Duncan screen for a pass and a corner 3. Felton gets delayed a bit but closes out hard and still manages to contest, and Ginobili misses. Not a bad look for a steady corner shooter, but the call basically marginalized three guys on the floor while Ginobili ran and Duncan set his feet; this didn't seem like flowing, creative Spurs offense.
• 3:40: The Knicks bring back the Chandler-Anthony double screen up top, but this time Felton goes away from it, crossing Ginobili up and driving left. Chandler rolls hard to the rim as Duncan slides to stop the ball, but Felton's lob is a bit too high for even the 7-foot-1 Chandler, leading to a turnover. The Spurs fail to capitalize, though, as Parker pushes in transition, dribbles at Kidd and takes an early-in-the-clock contested pull-up that misses.
• 3:15: Felton and Chandler return to the left side pick-and-roll. Parker again goes over the top, Felton again puts him in a trail position and drives the lane, going right at Duncan and finishing at the rim. The lead is down to one. Knicks 15-4.
• 2:50: After the Spurs' initial action of Leonard triggering up top while Ginobili and Parker run off screens comes up empty, Parker triggers a right side pick-and-roll with Jackson late in the shot clock. Parker goes away from the screen, drives baseline and draws a foul on Felton, hitting his two freebies. Knicks 15-6.
• 2:35: The Knicks run Anthony off a Chandler screen toward the left corner away from the ball, drawing Jackson away from the middle of the floor. (After the game, Anthony told reporters that at one point he'd "huddled everybody up and said, 'Use me as a decoy'" — this was a case where that action seemed to work.) Chandler then races up top for a high pick-and-roll with Felton, with Parker going underneath this time and joining a digging-down Leonard to meet Felton at the foul line. Felton splits them and kicks to Smith, open above the break thanks to Leonard's sag, who puts the ball on the floor to beat Kawhi's closeout, drives middle and spins into a tough floater, which he nails, because J.R. Smith is the patron saint of the improbable. Knicks 17-6.
• 1:56: After the teams trade empty possessions — Parker missing a leaning runner after a Duncan screen at the left elbow, Felton missing a wide-open straight-on 3 created by Parker going under another big Anthony-Chandler double screen — Ginobili takes the ball and runs a pick-and-roll with Duncan on the right wing. Manu goes right — shocking! — and Chandler shows hard to trap the ball. Ginobili sees Duncan rolling to the rim and telegraphs his pass, but Felton's already got his hands up to contest the delivery, forcing Manu to check it down toward Parker in the corner. Kidd intercepts.
• 1:48: Kidd pushes in transition, driving middle with Felton running to the left wing and Anthony running to the right. Kidd finds Melo, who breaks down Leonard's closeout and penetrates, which forces Ginobili to rotate, leaving Felton all alone under the basket. When Melo finds him, though, rather than go up with it, Felton makes maybe his headiest play of this whole stretch, recognizing this:
Felton turns back and kicks it out to a beyond-wide-open Smith trailing the play on the left wing, who buries the triple, putting the Knicks in front for the first time since the 5:13 mark of the third quarter. Knicks 20-6.
• 1:23: Needing a bucket to retake the lead, the Spurs spread the floor, running a one-in, four-out set with Duncan guarded by Chandler in the middle. With 10 seconds left on the clock, Duncan comes out to the right elbow to set a screen for Parker. Kidd goes over the top of it and stays with Parker, who swings it back to Ginobili on the right for another pick-and-roll with Duncan with seven left on the shot clock, which pins Felton but is quickly negated by Chandler and a sagging Kidd.
Ginobili kicks up top to Parker, who's checked by a rotating Smith and a recovering Kidd; Parker's drive for a layup is deterred by Kidd and Chandler, forcing a pass back to Manu, whose drive attempt is closed off by Felton. With the clock winding down, Ginobili kicks to Leonard in the corner, but a hard closeout by Anthony forces the second-year swingman to put the ball on the deck rather than going right up with a shot, and that split-second hesitation ate up the last of the Spurs' time, causing a shot-clock violation that sent play the other way. This was a massive, massive possession.
• 1:02: Felton dribbles on the left wing. As Smith cuts through the lane to the right corner and Kidd rotates up to the right wing, Chandler and Anthony again bring their double screen — this time with their arms literally linked together, like a pair of giant roller-derby blockers. Parker again goes underneath, but does a better job than he had previously of recovering and keeping Felton up top, stalling the initial action with seven seconds left on the shot clock.
Chandler quickly comes back for a second high screen, while Anthony sinks to the left corner. Felton drives left around Chandler, with Parker chasing over the top this time and again staying with Felton on the move. As Chandler rolls to the rim, Green drops down just a bit to shade toward the cutting big man, but in the process leaves Kidd wide open above the break. Felton recognizes it and quickly swings the ball back across the grain, hitting Kidd in rhythm for a 3-pointer over Green's outstretched right hand, giving the Knicks a five-point lead. Timeout, Spurs. Knicks 23-6.
After a quick-hitter for Duncan in the low post caught iron and the ball went out of bounds to the Knicks, the Spurs still had a chance to get a stop and get the ball back with about 30 seconds left and down two possessions. But then, this happened:
And that, as they say, was that. Knicks 25-6.
The Spurs tacked on five points in the final half-minute on a pair of Duncan free throws and a too-late Leonard triple, but for all intents and purposes, the game ended on Chandler's follow dunk. Kind of fitting, considering the play resulted from the defining fact of the fourth quarter — Felton beating Parker.
In the quarter, Felton scored eight points, created nine more through three 3-point assists (two to Kidd, one to Smith) and generated another seven (Kidd's second 3, Smith's spinning floater and Chandler's follow-up jam) by compromising the Spurs' defense with his penetration — the point guard had a hand in 25 of the Knicks' 32 fourth-quarter points. The Spurs, as a team, scored 24 in the final frame, and Parker — three points on 0-for-4 shooting, 10 points generated by assist — couldn't answer the bell. It's a matchup the Knicks might not win many nights, but it went their way over the final seven-plus minutes on Thursday, and that's why New York's 6-0.
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