NEW YORK — The Knicks had a chance tonight at home against the San Antonio Spurs to make a statement, a very large statement about the progress they have been making during their recent string of good games in December that has seen them win nine of their 13 games this month. The Knicks went ahead and made that statement and it was this: We will scrap and defend and work as hard as possible to give the elite teams in this league a tough game. But, when we get down to crunch time in the fourth quarters of close games, we’re not going to be able to find a way to win most of those games.
In tonight’s 95-88 loss to the Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli-led Spurs, the Knicks repeated the same weaknesses in the final stanza of the game they had exhibited the previous game against the Miami Heat. They simply do not have the one or two go-to players who can command the ball and the ballgame. The Heat had Dwyane Wade and tonight, the Spurs had their three superstars, now older players who can still summon up the talent and leadership skills to bring home a win. The Knicks are still looking for that player to take on the role.
Parker scored 22 points, Ginobili added 17, and Duncan made his presence felt during an off-night offensively in those last minutes. All of them embraced having the ball in their hands in the final minutes of a very closely played game while the Knicks continue to struggle to find even one player capable of filling that role. It was the difference between winning and losing.
”Down the stretch they know exactly where to go and how to execute,” Knicks center David Lee said. “That’s from years from playing together. They did that tonight. Parker hit a couple of tough ones down the stretch and so did Ginobili.”
Duncan finished with 13 points while being outplayed by Lee, but Parker and Ginobili combined for all of San Antonio’s points after the game was tied at 84 with under 3 1/2 minutes remaining. The Spurs won for the eighth time in 10 games following a three-game skid earlier this month.
”David had an excellent game and my shot wasn’t falling, but T.P. stepped up, Manu stepped up, we had a lot of guys step up and play well,” Duncan said. “So we got enough done to get the win.”
Lee matched a season high with 28 points on 11-of-13 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds, but the Knicks finished 3-2 on their five-game homestand after losing the last two. Danilo Gallinari and Al Harrington each scored 19.
The Knicks held an opponent under 100 points for the 10th straight time, the first time they’ve done that since a 19-game stretch from Feb. 18-March 26, 2001. But they wasted that effort with another poor night from the perimeter, going 2 for 16 from 3-point range.
”We’re playing a really good team that’s playing well, so you’ve got to give them credit, but at the same time we missed two fouls shots, missed a layup [and] wide-open 3s,” Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said. “If you don’t make those against this team, you’re not going to have many chances to beat them.”
Expected to be one of the league’s top teams after bringing in players such as Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess during a busy offseason, the Spurs instead started slowly, with coach Gregg Popovich admitting it’s taken his team longer than he hoped to grasp his system. They were only 9-9 following their three-game losing streak, but are now 17-11 and usually play better in the second half of the season.
“The whole season is about jelling for us, try to adapt to all the new guys,” Parker said. “We changed more than half of the team, so it’ll take some time.
”It’s different, because we’ve got a lot of new guys and everybody’s trying to do the right thing, trying to play unselfish, and moving the ball and I think it will take some time. But I think we’re going to the right direction. I think we’re on the right track.”
Ginobili snapped an 84-all tie with a long jumper with 3:25 remaining — it was originally called a 3-pointer but overturned by video review — and after Chris Duhon missed a pair of free throws, Parker and Ginobili scored on drives to the basket to make it 90-84 with 2:12 remaining. Parker answered Lee’s basket by converting a three-point play, extending it to 93-86 with 1:06 to go.
Ginobili added a pair of free throws with 15 seconds to go as the Spurs pulled out their second victory in less than 24 hours, having won at Milwaukee on Saturday night. The victory delighted the many international fans who turned out to support Parker and Ginobili, with Parker waving to a large group of cheering fans after completing an interview on the court after the game.
“I’m very happy with the way I played the last two games and the way the team played,” Ginobili said. “It’s going to be a nice trip home.”
The Knicks need to win their final two games, at Detroit and New Jersey, for their first 10-win month since going 10-8 in January 2003.
The Spurs took a 21-20 lead after the first quarter, then began to solve the Knicks’ defense in the second. San Antonio shot 65 percent in that period, but Lee made all seven shots for 14 first-half points and the Spurs led only 50-47 at the break.
New York got the first basket of the third quarter before the Spurs ran off nine straight points to take the game’s first double-digit lead at 59-49. The Knicks caught up by the middle of the period and the lead seesawed from there, with Ginobili’s 3-pointer with 9 seconds left giving San Antonio a 70-68 edge entering the fourth.
Read more of Scott at SportsReporters.com