New York Knicks succumb fourth-quarter lead to Spurs in opening loss

New York Knicks (Photos by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
New York Knicks (Photos by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images) /

A flopped point-guard experiment created problems early and contributed to the New York Knicks’ first loss of the season.

A high-profile matchup for the season opener, the New York Knicks traveled to the Alamo City to face the San Antonio Spurs. The game stayed competitive most of the way, until a late Spurs run, led by the Silver and Black’s backcourt, sealed the victory, 120-111.

Almost every story surrounding the Knicks involved the starting lineup. Who would head coach David Fizdale use to open the first game? Whether it stuck or not, it was the topic of conversation, and the second-year helmer kept it quiet until hours before game time, with RJ Barrett, Allonzo Trier, Marcus Morris, Julius Randle and Bobby Portis as that group.

No point guard was a surprise. Barrett and Trier played well in the preseason, but Dennis Smith Jr., Elfrid Payton and Frank Ntilikina did nothing to secure the starting job.

Well, Fizdale’s experiment ended after six minutes. That starting lineup featured five players who looked for their own shot, lacking the prototypical ball-handler despite Barrett’s acumen. Along with defensive issues, Trier was yanked from the lineup and never returned to the game.

Before the game, Fizdale, per the New York Post, said he was intrigued by the Barrett-Trier backcourt.

"“I just like that combination of RJ and Allonzo Trier to be out there,’’ Fizdale said. “The competition is still on and I’m still searching for combinations that are going to fit. Coming into this, I want to see how that looks.”"

He saw how it looked, and it did not stick.

As a result, the standard point-guard look returned for the rest of the game, as Smith Jr., and Ntilikina received opportunities, and the outcomes varied.

Payton was sound defensively, something the Knicks desperately needed, as Dejounte Murray cooked them from start to finish, with 18 points, eight rebounds, six steals and three steals. The former New Orleans Pelican entered the game in the second quarter, accumulated 26 minutes and had 11 points, eight assists and five steals.

Smith Jr. had a rough 10 minutes. Perhaps rust remains from his back injury, but two points and three fouls will not cut it.

Ntilikina had the shortest run of the night, playing just two minutes. It took until the third quarter, but Fizdale quickly yanked him after two errant passes and a foul.

It remains unknown if that was a one-off experiment for the backcourt, but Payton played like the guy who deserves the next start. Fizdale’s lineups always fluctuate, but after this one game, it is warranted.

Point guard was not the only issue, as the Knicks crumbled under the Spurs’18-0 run in the fourth quarter, featuring Murray, an onslaught from Bryn Forbes and relentless work from the ageless LaMarcus Aldridge, who Bobby Portis struggled to cover.

Three Stars

  1. Dejounte Murray, as noted, gave the Knicks issues all night. He looked as athletically smooth as he did before the torn ACL.
  2. Julius Randle’s 25 points, 11 rebounds and six assists made for a productive Knicks debut. He exited in the fourth quarter with an injury, however, and did not return.
  3. In his first San Antonio appearance since RenegGate, Marcus Morris had a quiet 26 points.
  • Point guard situation aside, Barrett was terrific offensively. His 21 points on 9-for-13 shooting marked another efficient night, tapping into his strengths inside the arc; 10 of his 13 attempts were from this range. Pencil the Duke product in as a Rookie of the Year favorite.
  • A more defined role seemed to benefit Kevin Knox, sinking five of his nine shots for 13 points. The pressure to produce on a team lacking depth is no longer there.
  • Wayne Ellington was counterproductive for the Knicks. Fourth-quarter usage contributed to the team’s demise, and he went just 1-for-4 from the field.
  • The Knicks forced 21 turnovers and found scoring opportunities, while losing the ball 14 times themselves.
  • Damyean Dotson and Ignas Brazdeikis did not play due to coach’s decision.

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The Knicks have two days to work off this loss, before traveling to the New York City area to face the Brooklyn Nets on Friday, Oct. 25.