If you held your breath Friday night as Knicks guard Jose Calderon’s three-point shot from the left corner at AT&T Center arched towards the basket, time expiring on the Spurs-Knicks game as it neared the rim, know that you were not alone.
Spurs point guard Tony Parker was waiting to exhale, too.
This was classic NBA basketball, when one shot as time expires means the difference between a win and a loss.
The Spurs can be forgiven for worrying about last-second shots. They lost several games at AT&T Center last season when opponents hit last-second shots. And Calderon’s shot, with Manu Ginobili running at him, was launched in the general vicinity of the game-winning shot that Lakers guard Derek Fisher, Ginobili running at him, made in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference semifinals on a play that began with just 0.4 seconds left, one of the most infamous shots ever made by a Spurs opponent on their home court.
And Fisher is now the Knicks coach.
“The last couple years or so it seems like everybody hits the big shot against us,” said Spurs guard Danny Green. “As it left his hand, I was thinking, ‘Oh, God, not again.’”
No, Danny, not this time. Calderon’s shot was just a tad long, and by the time it bounced high off the rim the last tenth of a second had ticked off the game clock, preserving a 100-99 Spurs win and the team’s perfect record on its home court.
The Spurs are 22-0 in their refurbished arena, a franchise record, and 32-6 on the season, matching the 2010-11 Spurs for the best start in club history after 38 games.
Parker had good reason to inhale as he watched the potential game-winner that had been launched by one of the league’s better 3-point shooters (42 percent). His 20-foot jumper from the right side on the Spurs’ last possession of the game had been launched with just under eight seconds left on the 24-second shot clock, a tad too quick for the situation.
“I was still mad that I missed that shot because it was wide open,” Parker said. “I thought it was a great look and I rushed it a little bit.”
It was natural enough for Parker to believe his final shot was going to go in the basket since his three previous shots had gone in, including two in the final 68 seconds.
“I got excited a little bit and shot too quick,” he explained. “The play was for Manu (Ginobili) originally and he was not open so LaMarcus came to me for the second shot. I knew the shot was going to be there because. I got too excited because I was rolling and made my last three (shots). I should have followed through.”
Parker’s tactical gaffe was rendered harmless by a solid defensive stand when the Knicks rushed the ball upcourt after New York’s Langston Galloway rebounded Parker’s miss. Knicks scoring leader Carmelo Anthony, one of the NBA’s most dangerous scorers, tried to drive to the Spurs basket but was smothered by Spurs defensive ace Kawhi Leonard, with a little help from Ginobili.
Leonard, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, already had limited Anthony to just 20 points, on 5-for-15 shooting, well below his season shooting percentage of 43.1. He blocked Anthony’s path to the basket and Ginobili took away the space to Anthony’s left.
“He wanted to take the last shot so I just tried to not give him a lot of room and he ended up passing,” Leonard said. “Manu did a great job of making sure he couldn’t go to a fade-away shot going to his left. He kind of spun out on me and passed the ball.”
The problem for Ginobili: Scrambling back to Calderon after Anthony found him, unguarded, in the left corner.
“I tried to help Kawhi, tried to make it crowded because you know Carmelo is a guy who can shoot over almost anybody in the league,” Ginobili said. “So I tried to make it crowded and then close out on Jose as best I could. When he let the ball go and I turned it was looking good but it didn’t (go in.)
Afterwards, there was some debate about the value of the Spurs finally having to play to the final moment of a game on their home court. In their previous 21 home court wins their closest margin of victory had been a 108-105 win over the Boston Celtics, but since that close call on Dec. 5 only two games had not been by double figures. The previous three home court wins were by an average of 25.3 points.
“I think we needed it,” veteran forward David West said. “I think we figured out some execution stuff, some timing stuff you can only do in a tight game. I thought we played well enough, got enough stops. Tony made some big plays down the stretch, and LaMarcus, too.”
Ginobili could have done without the drama. Another blowout would have been just fine for the 38-year-old Argentine.
“I was kind of enjoying them,” he said. “It’s not bad to win games like that. Nothing is easy in this NBA but we knew, facing the Knicks, they were playing great, feeling good about themselves, shooting well and that we had to play much better to get this win. And I think we did.
“There was a moment we were up 12 or 14 and missed four or five good shots in a row. Then they made a couple plays they made good shots and the first (3-pointer) by Afflalo off a bounce and that gave them life and it became a tough one. That’s what happens in this league.”
Thus far this season what has not happened to the Spurs is a loss on their home court, no matter the level of drama.
*Top Image: The San Antonio Spurs 2015-2016 Roster and Coaching Staff. Photo by Scott Ball. Related Stories: