Greg Popovich drew first blood — insinuating before the game that the Knicks were unprofessional for signing Marcus Morris after Morris had given his verbal agreement to the Spurs to sign with them in the off season.
Meanwhile, Knicks coach David Fizdale kept it a secret as to who his starting point guard would be until an hour before game time. Was he trying to confuse Popovich or was he just confused?
Spurs Fans Booed Morris; Knicks Fans Booed Knicks
Morris was booed during the game in San Antonio. Meanwhile at home, Knicks fans were booing the Knicks on TV the first 6 minutes as they fell behind 14-4. Fizdale yanked Trier and put in Dennis Smith Jr, and still the Knicks wallowed — falling behind by 16. Fizdale yanked Smith and brought in Elfrid Payton — who had looked good at times in the preseason and BAM — Payton led the Knicks back with penetrations and passing, and a tenacious defense, creating havoc and steals.
Payton the Point Guard, Barrett, & the Knicks “D”
Payton got the Knicks right back into the game. His penetrations opened up open 3’s. He looked like the first point guard the Knicks had had in years. And RJ Barrett shone in all aspects of his game — scoring at will, defending, and looking like the best player on the court — like a future all star. Julius Randle and Marcus Morris also played well. The Knicks in general played excellent Defense in the 2nd and 3rd quarters.
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) October 24, 2019
Frank Ntilikina came in at the end of the 3rd and was horrible — throwing two consecutive bad passes away that led to fast breaks in the other direction, and taking a foul on the last mistake. He was yanked. Despite this, the Knicks took the lead into the 4th quarter, and were ahead by as many as 7 points early in the 4th.
Not So Fast
And then — Wayne Ellington came in and forced a shot and created an offensive foul on successive possessions and the momentum shifted to San Antonio. There were two consecutive Payton drives where the ball rolled in and out, and resulted in a fast break the other direction. San Antonio scored 18 straight points to turn a 7-pt deficit into an 11-point lead.
And that was the old ballgame.
When the Smoke Cleared
Allonzo Trier was essentially benched the rest of the game after the poor first 6 minutes — he played less than a minute at the end of the 3rd, finishing with 7 minutes, 0-3 shooting for a -6. (He had been -10 after that first 6 minutes so improved by +4 when back on the court.)
But the story of this game was:
- RJ Barrett who excelled in all aspects; he finished with 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting to go along with 5 rebs, 2 assists and 2 steals,
- Payton and his penetrating & passing on offense and tenacious defense,
- the solid play of Julius Randle and Marcus Morris — although Morris did an impersonation of Carmelo Anthony on several possessions in the 4th quarter with iso ball.
- Kevin Knox, who assertively drove to the basket with a directness he lacked last year, and hit several of his pretty, high-arcing and accurate 3’s. His D wasn’t great but but it was better than last year and he was mostly in the right place on the court. This was similar to the way he played in preseason — aka he looks like he’s improved since last year. More efficient.
He is the second-youngest player (19 years, 131 days) with 21+ points in his first career NBA game (LeBron James: 18 years, 303 days). pic.twitter.com/1PGBIJt1vi
— NBA (@NBA) October 24, 2019
Overall a hopeful beginning.
After the game, Marc Berman reported that Morris and Popovich had made up. Morris said, “…and the thing he said to me was don’t allow the media to come in between of what we talked about.” So you had to wonder why Popavich threw Morris under the bus before the game.
According to Berman, “before the game, when a New York scribe asked what he meant by unprofessional, Popovich said, “Do you have a dictionary? Look that up and you’ll figure it out.”
As announced on the tv, the Spurs have a bit of an older team:
- DeMar DeRozan — 30 yrs old
- LaMarcus Aldridge —34 yrs old
- Rudy Gay — 33 yrs old
- Marco Belinelli — 33 yrs old
- DeMarre Carroll — 33 yrs old
Their youth is served by players like Dejounte Murray (looked excellent — like Jamal Murray at times), Trey Lyles, (who was signed after Morris broke his verbal agreement aka changed his mind), and Bryn Forbes (good ballplayer although sometimes he heaves 3’s and his feet come out in front of him — perhaps practicing the 4-pt-feet-lean-in play).