The triple take: Spurs 122, Knicks 115

The triple take: Spurs 122, Knicks 115

Updated: 3 months, 20 hours, 8 minutes, 1 second ago

The New York Knicks arrived in San Antonio not-so-fresh off one of the worst losses in NBA history — a five-point overtime defeat in Dallas that saw them blow a nine-point lead in the final 33 seconds of regulation.

The Spurs were in no mood to give the Knicks a bounce-back Thursday.

With Keldon Johnson bruising his way to 30 points and Romeo Langford supplying a career-best 23 in a spot start, the Spurs rolled off a 122-115 victory at the AT&T Center.

The Spurs controlled the game from the middle of the first quarter on, leading by as many as 17 points in the second half.

New York dropped its second in a row in the state of Texas, despite a season-best 41 points from Julius Randle and a season-high 36 from Immanuel Quickley.

With starters Jalen Brunson (hip soreness) and R.J. Barrett (finger laceration) out for the Knicks, the Spurs did a good job on everyone not named Randle or Quickley.

Of the remaining Knicks, only reserve guard Evan Fournier reached double figures with 11.

The Spurs were without second-leading scorer Devin Vassell, who sat with left knee soreness. Langford earned a rare start instead, surpassing the 19.6 points Vassell averages and helping set the Spurs on course for victory in their penultimate game of 2022.

The final one comes Saturday in a New Year’s Eve tilt against the same Mavericks who stunned New York behind a 60-point, 21-rebound, 10-assist monster of a triple-double from Luka Doncic on Tuesday.

Here are three takeaways from Thursday’s victory, which bumped the Spurs to 12-23:

1. Foul trouble leaves KJ unfazed

With Vassell out, Johnson was asked to carry even more of the scoring load Thursday.

His night did not start all so well.

Johnson picked up two early fouls and airballed a 3-pointer in the first quarter. A lesser player under different circumstances might have pulled back on the reins a bit.

Johnson did the opposite. He put his head down — sometimes literally — and kept coming.

The result was his fifth 30-point game of the season, and his first since putting up 32 in a win over Houston on Dec. 28.

The disappearance of Johnson’s 3-point shot remains something of a mystery. He finished 3 of 8 from beyond the arc but hit back-to-back big ones in the fourth quarter.

Other than that, Johnson did the bulk of his damage in the paint.

He made a pair of tough inside buckets in the final five minutes with the Knicks threatening to pull within single digits.

On a night when the Spurs needed someone to make up for Vassell’s nearly 20 points per game, Johnson did his part.

2. Langford plays the role of Boy Scout

The reserve guard’s motto is the same as the Scouts’: Be prepared.

Two games after taking a DNP in the Spurs’ win over the Jazz and one game after logging only nine minutes in OKC, Langford was in the starting lineup against New York.

Had Vassell been cleared to play, Langford’s night might have been less active.

Instead, the 23-year-old responded with the best game of his NBA life.

Langford’s 11 made field goals were not only plentiful, they were timely.

He scored eight points in the first quarter, including three consecutive buckets at one point, to help the Spurs get out of the gates.

He added six more points in the fourth quarter as the Spurs were scrapping to keep New York at bay.

Langford began the game with a steal from the Knicks’ Miles McBride 14 seconds into the first quarter but missed a transition layup going the other way.

He didn’t miss much more after that.

Such a scoring night was pure gravy for Langford, who has earned a reputation as one of the Spurs’ best defensive guards.

On Thursday, Langford was a big reason the Spurs won despite Vassell spending the evening in street clothes.

All because he stayed ready.

3. Suddenly Sochan is a foul-shooting savant

When Spurs rookie Jeremy Sochan began shooting his free throws one-handed in a Dec. 19 win over Houston, it set Twitterdom abuzz.

Though he went 1 of 4 from the stripe that night, Sochan’s unorthodox foul-shooting stroke seems to be working for him.

The 19-year-old from Baylor went a perfect 4 of 4 from the free-throw line Thursday, making him 14 of 17 in the five games since the Spurs returned from Houston.

The hot spell has brought his season percentage to 52.3 percent, a testament to how dreadful things were before Sochan became the one-armed man from the foul stripe.

If the change in form has indeed fixed what ails Sochan at the line, it is a season-changing development for him.

He finished with 12 points last night, his 15th double-digit scoring night of the season.

Sochan wouldn’t have gotten there without making his free throws.

Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN