1. Knicks Beat Up On Fatigued Spurs
NEW YORK -- You have to give Gregg Popovich this: A player can't trip and fall over a courtside waitress if he's home in San Antonio.
Faced with a similar situation as when his team was fined $250,000 last month for sending four players home instead of playing them in a national televised game against the Miami Heat, Popovich used his whole roster Thursday night against the New York Knicks.
It was the fourth game in five nights at the end of road trip. It was the same situation as when he sent Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green back to Texas in early December in a move that seemed to anger NBA commissioner David Stern.
When explaining himself on the change of heart with his aging team this time, Popovich said the decision was a "safety" issue not a "rest" issue, which Stern had called unreasonable in handing down the historic fine.
Jackson stepped back after attempting a 3-pointer in the corner and was quite surprised to find himself on top of a courtside waitress who was kneeling behind him just outside the playing floor. She appeared to be taking the order of New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg's party at the time and was just as alarmed as Jackson.
Five minutes later, Jackson was limping heavily to the Spurs' locker room and Bloomberg was eating a bag of popcorn and drinking a bottle of water. Jackson, who sprained his right ankle, never returned and Popovich declined to comment about it afterward.
This pretty much summed up the evening for the Spurs, who were noticeably sluggish and saw their seven-game win streak snapped as they suffered through their lowest-scoring night of the season in a 100-83 loss to the Knicks.
Nonetheless, it was a needed elixir for the Knicks, who had lost five of their past eight games. After struggling defensively for weeks and trying to deal with lineup changes resulting from the return of Amar'e Stoudemire and an injury to Raymond Felton, the Knicks put forth a quality defensive effort. The Spurs managed to shoot just 36 percent and score 12 points in the paint.
Those numbers mean two of the Spurs' greatest offensive assets -- 3-point shooting and Parker's great penetration game -- were neutralized by the Knicks' schemes.
In an effort to jump-start his defense, Woodson made two moves. One was to show a highlight film to his players of their defense during the first few weeks of the season, when the Knicks were putting up some of the best numbers in the league. The other was to move Marcus Camby into the starting lineup at power forward.
Stoudemire put up better numbers than his first outing by scoring 10 points, but he had his shot blocked three times and had just two rebounds in 21 minutes.
But Camby, who last started a game for the Knicks 11 seasons ago, and Tyson Chandler ended up doing a good job of defending the paint and it carried over throughout the team. The Knicks' activity defensively was markedly improved.
"We put a nice feel-good tape together this morning to show our players," Woodson said. "We were doing everything right at the beginning of the season. There was some major slippage."
Over the years, teams have benefited at times when catching the Spurs on back-to-backs, especially as Duncan has aged. Duncan is in the midst of having his best season in four years, averaging 18 points and nearly 10 rebounds in 30 minutes a game as his troublesome left knee appears to be cooperating better than anyone in the Spurs organization could've predicted.
But playing so many games this week appeared to take a toll on Duncan, who was one of many Spurs who appeared a step slower. Duncan had 11 points but sat the last 15 minutes after the Knicks went on a 10-0 run to start the fourth quarter.
But Popovich was quick to give credit to the Knicks, who were happy to take it.
"New York's defense was great tonight," Popovich said. "We were low on fuel and they kicked our butt."
The win gave the Knicks their first season sweep over San Antonio since the 2002-03 season.
"I believe they're the best team in the league," Woodson said. "We beat a damn-good ball club."
"Woody said we we're the best in the league?" Popovich retorted jokingly. "He's full of it. He learned that trick from [mentor] Larry [Brown]."
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
That was awesome: That's the only word that comes to mind when watching J.R. Smith's fourth-quarter dunk. Smith cut baseline and Pablo Prigioni found him with a lob. Problem was, the lob got only as high as J.R.'s hip. Never fear, as Smith caught the ball low and finished the dunk with some ferocity, making all of us question the limits of the human body.
Defining moment: The Spurs cut their deficit to seven at the end of the third quarter, but New York came out on fire to start the fourth. The Knicks started the period on an 8-0 run and hit their first eight shots. A 3-pointer by Steve Novak during that stretch gave New York a 20-point lead. It was a rare offensive outburst in this game and was more than enough to put the game away for the Knicks.
Most valuable player: This is sort of a toss-up between Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, but I'm going to go with Smith. He had 20 points on 9-of-17 shooting and one vicious dunk you'll be seeing on "SportsCenter" for the next few days. More than that, though, he provided a offensive spark that the game needed, especially early.
Recap | Box score
That was historic: Andre Miller's set-shot jumper gave him 15,000 career points. Miller had already surpassed the 7,500-assist mark earlier this season. He is now just the eighth player to reach both of those figures, a nice accomplishment from an often-overlooked point guard who has managed to play well at every point and every stop in his career.
MVP: J.J. Barea. Coming off the bench with 17 points, Barea was fantastic for Minnesota. This game was marred by a herky jerky flow, which keeps most players off their best game. Not so for Barea, who seems to thrive when there's discombobulating chaos. He got into the lane with impunity for easy lay-ins and also hit a couple of huge 3-pointers. He was especially unstoppable, along with Luke Ridnour, in the fourth quarter for the Wolves.
Least valuable player: JaVale McGee. In 13 minutes of action, McGee took seven shots but made just one. Even that one made field goal came courtesy of a Ty Lawson alley-oop pass. Even worse was McGee's defense. There's a reason Barea was getting into the lane without a problem. A shame George Karl didn't keep Kosta Koufos in the game more, especially since the Greek center didn't have any foul trouble on the night.
3. Thursday's Best
Steve Novak, Knicks: The patented "discount double-check" move was in full effect at the Garden, as New York's sharpshooter went 5-of-7 from 3-point range for 15 points in 22 minutes in the Knicks' rout.
4. Thursday's Worst
Spurs' offense: San Antonio came into the Garden averaging nearly 112 points per game during its seven-game win streak but managed only 83 -- 12 in the paint -- in a loss to the Knicks. It was the losest scoring output by the Spurs this season. Gregg Popovich's group will chalk this one up to a fourth game in five nights, and move on.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"J.R. does some amazing things. He's a freak of nature."
--Knicks center Tyson Chandler, on J.R. Smith's slam off a lob pass from Pablo Prigioni in the fourth quarter (see box No. 10).
8. Which Way Did They Go?
9. Stat Check
Andre Iguodala shot 1-for-5 from 3-point range and made only one of his seven free-throw attempts in Denver's loss to Minnesota on Thursday night. That followed Iguodala's 1-for-5 performance from both the 3-point line and charity stripe on New Year's Day.
Prior to this season, there had been only seven instances in which a player made as low as 20 percent of his attempts from 3-point range and the free throw line with a minimum of five attempts in each category in the same game, and no player had done that more than once. Iguodala has now done it in consecutive games.
10. Dunk Of The Night