Perhaps looking toward a big one in Boston, Gregg Popovich pulled Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker with more than three minutes on the clock and a manageable margin on the scoreboard.
No matter. Those guys weren’t stopping the New York Knicks, anyway.
Wilson Chandler scored a season-high 31 points, and the Knicks overwhelmed the San Antonio Spurs with a sensational offensive performance, cooling off the NBA leaders with a 128-115 victory Tuesday night.
Amare Stoudemire and Raymond Felton added 28 apiece for the Knicks, who snapped the Spurs’ four-game winning streak and dropped them to 29-5. New York rang up the highest point total San Antonio has allowed this season, shooting 55 percent and leading most of the way in its second straight victory.
"They were more aggressive. They were more physical. They were hungrier than we were," Popovich said.
"If we score 115 points, I expect to win. Our defense was pathetic. It was our worst defense of the year. They went after the game and they got it. Nothing else tricky about it."
Parker had 26 points for the Spurs, who will try to regroup when they head to Boston on Wednesday for a matchup of conference leaders. DeJuan Blair added 17, Ginobili scored 15 and Duncan finished with 14 on just 5-of-14 shooting.
Rookie Landry Fields had 13 points for the Knicks in a big victory before they head west for a tough four-game trip that starts Friday in Phoenix and includes games against the Lakers, Portland and Utah.
"We feel like we can match up with the best of them," Stoudemire said. "We played Miami tough in Miami, we played Boston tough both games, so we’ve got some quality wins against some pretty good teams. So we feel like we’re right there, but we’ve just got to play with some consistency and keep it going all year."
NBA teams have started at least 30-4 nine times, but the Spurs gave up hope of that with a little more than 3 minutes left, when Popovich yanked his Big Three after one last Knicks flurry made it a double-digit lead again.
"Three minutes is a lot of time and a 10-point lead is not that big with 3 minutes left," Chandler said, "so you’ve still got to play hard and execute, and Amare and Ray did that down the stretch."
Unlike its four championship teams, San Antonio has built this strong start more with offense than defense. The Spurs have played it well enough to put them on pace for one of the best records in NBA history, but Popovich doesn’t expect it to last.
"We’re not going to keep up this pace, that’s for sure. It’s not going to happen," he said before the game.
Not if the Spurs defend the way they did Tuesday too often.
"I asked them if they wouldn’t mind maybe playing a little bit better tomorrow. They said they’d think about it," Popovich said. "We’ll see what happens."
Even without anyone who could guard Chandler, the Spurs were still within five midway through the fourth quarter before Toney Douglas and Felton made 3-pointers, and consecutive baskets by Felton and Stoudemire pushed it to 122-111 with 3:27 remaining.
The Knicks easily surpassed their league-leading average of 107.2 points per game even without starting forward Danilo Gallinari, who is expected to miss two to three weeks with a sprained left knee.
San Antonio is fourth in the league with its 105.6 points per game and nobody got any stops early. The teams combined to hit 11 of their first 12 shots and barely cooled off as the Knicks took a 36-35 lead after one quarter. Duncan (1 of 5) was just about the only player who couldn’t capitalize on the lack of defense.
New York pushed the lead to nine midway through the second after consecutive jumpers by Stoudemire and was ahead 72-69 at halftime, the most points San Antonio has surrendered in a half this season.
"They made us play their game instead of us making them play ours," Duncan said. "They got up and down, made shots, had it rolling in every direction. We couldn’t find a way to stop them."
Chandler scored 11 in the third quarter, when the Knicks opened a double-digit lead before carrying a 101-95 advantage into the final period.
NOTES: Gallinari said after he was hurt in Sunday’s victory over Indiana that he didn’t think his injury was bad enough to keep him out long. But he was feeling pain Monday morning, so he wasn’t too surprised by the timetable. "Right after the game, you want to get back on the court," he said. "You’re feeling not great but not that bad, so you hope and you think that the recovery time is not going to be that long, but the truth is always the next day of the injury." … The NBA announced earlier Tuesday that the rematch between the teams on Jan. 21 in San Antonio has been added to the national TV schedule and will be on ESPN.