Commentary

Knicks pin Spurs with submission hold

Visiting coach quick to pull starters as New York sends NBA's best team to the mat

Updated: January 6, 2011, 4:37 AM ET
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- When you can make a military man like Gregg Popovich surrender, you have accomplished the rarest of feats.

Yet there was the San Antonio Spurs coach throwing in the towel and/or raising the white flag with 3:13 still remaining in what turned out to be the New York Knicks' most complete and most impressive victory in, what, a decade?

Go ahead, think back and try to remember another night in the past 10 years when the Knicks brought the very best team in the NBA to its knees, imposing their will with such efficiency and determination that the opponent simply got up and quit.

We've seen the Knicks quit. But the other guys? It just never happens.

[+] EnlargeWilson Chandler
AP Photo/Kathy WillensWilson Chandler poured in a season-high 31 points.

But it did on this particular Tuesday night, with Popovich pulling his starters en masse with his team trailing by just 11 points in what ended up as a 128-115 victory for New York. The Knicks put up the highest point total of any Spurs opponent this season and handed the team with the NBA's best record just its fifth loss.

"We have a game tomorrow, and it's a long season. The chances of winning that game were not good," said Popovich, whose team had held its previous four opponents to 80, 82, 93 and 74 points. "There's not going to be a line outside of the arena to buy any one of our defensive playbooks. If there is a line, they're a bunch of wackos."

This was the kind of signature victory the Knicks had been missing from their collective résumé, through this better-than-expected-but-far-from-great season of theirs, a season that had been marked by a 13-1 streak that turned around their fortunes but was followed by a bundle of losses to quality teams -- Miami (twice), Boston and Orlando -- over the past three weeks.

But on this night, playing their first game since learning that Danilo Gallinari would be sidelined for the next 2-3 weeks because of a sprained knee, the Knicks put on a display of offensive efficiency and relentlessness that even they probably didn't know they had in them.

If Amare Stoudemire and Raymond Felton had each made another bucket apiece, they would have had three 30-point scorers. As it was, those two scored 28 apiece and Wilson Chandler had a season-high 31 as he moved over to small forward in a revamped starting lineup that now has Stoudemire playing his natural position, power forward, with Ronny Turiaf starting at center.

Chandler was 3-for-6 from 3-point range and 13-for-19 overall to go with nine rebounds and four assists. Stoudemire shot 11-for-17, and Felton was 10-for-17 to help the Knicks shoot 55 percent.

The Spurs entered the game allowing 96.7 points -- a mark the Knicks surpassed with just under two minutes remaining in the third quarter. New York defeated a team that was 25 games over .500 for the first time since April 10, 2009, against Orlando, and they reached the 20-win mark a full 53 days before they achieved that plateau last season.

The 128 points were the most San Antonio had allowed all season.

"This is a good win, we're in a good spot and we needed this to kick off the road trip," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "I think we're a confident group."

The Knicks won't be back home again until Jan. 14 after a four-game trip takes them to Phoenix for Stoudemire's homecoming game against the Suns, to Los Angeles to face the struggling Lakers, then to Portland and Utah. But the Knicks have been a strong road team this year, with this home victory -- their fourth straight at Madison Square Garden -- giving them a 10-7 home mark to match their road record.

"It's a big win for us, and it shows us how good we can really be," Felton said. "But we have to grow from this and not get a big head because we beat San Antonio. It's only one game."

The sequence that prompted Popovich's surrender came with the Knicks holding a 120-111 lead following a pair of jumpers by Felton, whose confidence level was off the charts all night. On the later of those two jumpers, Felton nodded his head knowingly as he called over Stoudemire to set a screen, which he used to knock down a 20-footer.

On the Knicks' next possession, Landry Fields grabbed an offensive rebound and dumped a pass to Stoudemire for a layup, making it an 11-point game. The Spurs came back downcourt and Tony Parker drew a foul, but as he stepped to the line Popovich motioned down his bench to Ime Udoka, Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter and Matt Bonner to go in and replace the starters.

"They are a very good basketball team. They are not a dangerous team, they are a good team -- and there is a big difference. They are solid, they are playing their roles, they are playing together, they are communicating, and the physicality was impressive," Popovich said. "The way they chase screens and get up and down the court, they did a good job.

"I am happy for Mike [D'Antoni]. They had to go through some tough stuff, but they obviously turned the corner and it is wonderful for him, the players and the organization. They are obviously going in the right direction."

And that direction now includes a quality victory, the nature of which is going to make folks around the NBA take notice. And when you make someone like Popovich surrender, people indeed take heed.


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