It was always about the defense, not whether Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire play together. It was always a question of getting their ball movement back, creating open shots beyond the arc for other players. Against an exhausted San Antonio Spurs team, it started working again for the New York Knicks.

Yes, the again Spurs were exhausted from playing four games in five days, including a second in two nights. Last time such a thing happened, Popovich didn’t play Duncan, Ginobili and Parker and got a $250,000 fine from David Stern, who always has the wrong agenda right in front of him.

But that was only half the story of how the Knicks got back on the horse, beating the Spurs by 17 points while forcing them to their lowest scoring output this season. Mike Woodson decided it was time to put an end to the defensive problems, and threw Marcus Camby into the lineup, resulting in only 19 first quarter points for the Spurs. It might have hurt the Knicks’ offense in the short run, but they made up for it later.

On offense, the passing was back to where it was three and four weeks ago. Carmelo Anthony was a little less focused on scoring, taking “only” 20 shots while the Spurs seemed to concentrate their entire defensive efforts on stopping him, daring the Knicks to find another solution. Anthony finished with only 23 points, but the Knicks shot 12-27 from beyond the arc, as Steve Novak find his shooting touch again, making 5 of 7 three pointers, finishing with 15 points.

For Carmelo Anthony, it was the 20th consecutive game scoring at least 20 points; the sixth longest such streak in Knicks history. The record currently stands at 29, achieved in the 1961-1962 season by Richie Guerin. Amare Stoudemire had 26 consecutive games of 20 points or more during his first season with the Knicks, before Carmelo arrived and stole a lot of the spotlight and touches.

Our defense was slacking the last 10 games or so. Our defense kind of went the other way. We put a nice feel-good tape together to show our players how we started the season, that we were No. 1 in defense and on offense. There was some major slippage.

San Antonio, which averaged 111.7 points on 53.4% shooting during its winning streak of seven games and rang up 117 points on Wednesday in Milwaukee, shot just 36.4% in its lowest-scoring game this season.When the Knicks opened the fourth quarter with a run that brought their lead up to 17, Gregg Popovich decided it was time to let the old guys take a rest. The train of substitutes couldn’t really change the outcome.

J.R. Smith was the second highest scorer for the Knicks, but made the most memorable contribution. Of his 20 points, the most impressive two were those brought with an incredible reverse alley-oop dunk that it seems only J.R. Smith can pull of these days in the middle of the game. It happened during one of the Knicks’ runs in the fourth, bringing them to a 20 point lead with 5:38 left in the game.

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