Knicks' keys against the Spurs
January, 4, 2011
By Jared Zwerling
It's not so much of a surprise that the Spurs, who enter the Garden tonight, have the best record in the league at 29-4. Since 1997, when the team drafted Tim Duncan, they've won at least 50 games each year and haven't missed the playoffs once. (During the half-season lockout in 1998-99, they won 37.) What's been a surprise is how they've amassed that record with Duncan being only the team's third-leading scorer (13.6 ppg, a career-low). Here's how they're doing it and how the Knicks have to stop it:
Gregg Popovich, who's now in his 15th season as Spurs head coach, has for the first time ditched his deliberate halfcourt offense in favor of an up-tempo attack. Since Duncan's arrival, the team has never been higher than 19th in possessions per 48 minutes; they now rank 10th. The Spurs' 105.6 points per game rank fourth in the league; the previous high for a Popovich-coached team was 10th. They have done it by moving away from Duncan as the focal point of the offense and targeting their guard play. As a result, Manu Ginobili has raised his scoring average from the past two seasons to 18.7 ppg and he's second in the league in three-pointers made per game (2.5). Also, Tony Parker is averaging a career-best 7.1 assists. Not to mention, the Spurs are spreading out their scoring. In addition to the double-figure Big 3 of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker, Richard Jefferson is averaging 13.4 points and George Hill is averaging 11.5 off the bench. From SI.com: "They're pushing the ball better than any team in the league," says a Western Conference scout. "They're unselfish, and the ball moves fluidly. It's like they were built to play like this." The Knicks' transition defense will have to be at its best tonight and they'll need to be aware of cross-court passes and quick look-aheads, which Popovich has stressed since training camp.
While the Spurs' defense is not picture-perfect like it was when they won four titles, it's still strong. They're holding opponents to 96.7 points per game, which is the 10th-best mark in the league. Now that Danilo Gallinari is out for two to three weeks with a mild left knee sprain, the Knicks will need a scoring boost. But their defense shouldn't have a big setback.
W/ GALLINARI W/O GALLINARI
Pts/48 Mins 108.9 99.4 (937 in 452 min)
Opp Pts/48 Mins 106.9 101.3 (955 in 452 min)
Pt diff/48 Mins +2.0 -1.9 (-18 in 452 min)
FG pct 48.0 43.1 (350-812)
3-pt FG pct 38.6 34.1 (85-249)
Opp FG pct 47.7 44.2 (353-799)
Opp 3-pt FG pct 38.9 32.2 (56-174)
Without Gallo, Toney Douglas needs to pick up right where he left off against the Pacers (12 points and seven assists in 29 minutes). It was arguably the backup point guard's best game as a scorer and playmaker. Also Shawne Williams will have to hit some big threes and if Landry Fields can create a little more off the dribble and get to the line, which he's capable of, that wouldn't hurt either. Overall, expect to see the starting five play more than their league-high 38.9 minutes per game average because the Knicks will need everything and more from them to stymie the Spurs.
Unfortunately, the Knicks' first unit needs to have a perfect game tonight to beat the Spurs because, right now, they don't have enough punch off the bench. When the Magic beat the Spurs 123-101 on December 23, even though they got outrebounded 46 vs. 39, which could eat up the Knicks tonight (from Duncan to DeJuan Blair), they got enough second-unit production to overcome the Spurs' fast-paced charge (44 points). After Douglas and Williams, the question becomes: Who else can step up offensively?
Compiled by Mike Lynch, ESPN Research