The New York Knicks shocked the masses by defeating the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday, Feb. 12. The win created the blueprint for sustainable success.
When the New York Knicks arrived at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Feb. 12, few expected the hometown team to emerge victorious. The San Antonio Spurs were coming to New York with the second-best record in the NBA.
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In what may be the most shocking result of the 2016-17 NBA regular season, however, the Knicks upset the Spurs, 94-90.
New York entered the clash with San Antonio at 22-33 overall and 8-23 since Dec. 13. It had allowed at least 110 points in six of it previous seven games, with the only exception being a win over the 9-45 Brooklyn Nets.
Matched up against San Antonio, the No. 5 team in offensive efficiency, New York’s defense allowed just 90 points on 36.3 percent shooting from the field.
Though some may view this as a brief flash of brilliance, if the Knicks can do this once, they can do it again. Elite defense may not be a realistic goal, but playing at a high level on the defensive end of the floor is a genuine possibility.
The win over the Spurs proved just how capable the Knicks are of executing in that capacity.
New York allowed 21 offensive rebounds and committed 19 turnovers. San Antonio turned that into 15 second chance points and 21 points off of turnovers.
Both of those numbers are lower than they could—and likely should—have been, which is a testament to how committed the Knicks were on defense.
Subtract the second chance points and points off of turnovers, and New York held the No. 5 offensive team in the NBA to 54 points. It also limited the Spurs to six 3-point field goals on 29 attempts, which translates to 20.7 percent.
Though easily perceived as an out of body experience, the Knicks have found the ideal formula for defensive success.
The first key to New York’s execution against San Antonio was the tenacity with which the perimeter defenders closed out on shooters. The Spurs admittedly missed open shots, but the Knicks did a solid job of staying in their sets.
No perimeter player was more instrumental to the Knicks’ success on defense than Courtney Lee, whose off-ball defense was as impressive as his shot contests.
Along the interior, the Knicks made adjustments to enable Kristaps Porzingis to make his mark in the paint. Without the incessant need to close out on 3-point shooters, Porzingis was able to protect the rim and prevent slashers from generating easy offense.
Porzingis recorded four blocks, Kyle O’Quinn added three blocks of his own, and San Antonio scored just 36 points in the paint.
That’s a sustainable formula for success.
By enabling the shot-blocking big men to do what they do best, New York’s defense found stability. Moving forward, the key to success will be utilizing schemes that keep a man in the middle to contest shots and force the opposition to score from the perimeter.
If the perimeter defenders play with a consistent level of energy in closing out on shooters, the defense should improve.