NEW YORK -- Latrell Sprewell was back in the building and so were many other former Knicks.
Then the current team pulled out a defensive performance from its past.
Two nights after yielding 131 points in a dismal defensive performance against Denver, the Knicks limited the Spurs to 36 percent shooting and didn't let them reach 70 points until fewer than 8 minutes remained.
"That's great to watch. That's the right way to play basketball," Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said.
Sprewell returned for the first time since Dec. 29, 2004, sitting next to James Dolan two days after the Madison Square Garden chairman banned former player Charles Oakley from the building following his arrest for an altercation with security guards at a game Wednesday.
First, the Knicks of today showed fans they can win with defensive grit, too.
"They want us to compete. I understand that," Anthony said. "Win, lose or draw they want us to go out there and compete on a nightly basis and if we'd have lost this game today, this would have been a game where I can say we competed and the effort was there and everything was there."
Anthony provided offense when the Knicks needed it clinging to a two-point lead, making consecutive baskets to make it 92-86 with 33 seconds remaining.
Kawhi Leonard had 36 points for the Spurs (41-13), who had their two-game win streak snapped and failed in their first attempt to secure what would have been an NBA-record 20th consecutive winning season.
"The object is to put the ball in that orange ring," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "That's what we are all trying to do. Play a little D at the other end. But that orange ring, that ball's got to go in there. Thirty-six percent from the field and 20 from 3, whatever it was, that's not going to get it done on the road."
Spurs: The Spurs signed veteran center Joel Anthony for the remainder of the season following the expiration of his second 10-day contract. ... F Jonathon Simmons missed the game because of an illness, remaining in the team hotel.
Knicks: The Knicks changed their lineup again, starting Willy Hernangomez after going with Porzingis in a small lineup Friday. ... Lance Thomas returned after missing 14 games with a broken bone in his face but Joakim Noah missed his fourth straight game with a sore left hamstring. Hornacek said the Knicks would weigh sitting out Noah in their only game this week before the All-Star Game.
SPREE IN THE SEATS
Sprewell hadn't been at MSG since playing here for the final time on Dec. 29, 2004.
Perhaps to back Dolan's point that the franchise has strong relationships with almost all its other former players, the Knicks showed a number of them on the video board during the game.
Sprewell spent five seasons with the Knicks, helping them reach the 1999 NBA Finals, but cursed at Dolan in his first game back here after being traded to Minnesota. A Knicks official had been working for the last few years to reconcile their relationship so Sprewell could return, and Sprewell sat next to Dolan on the baseline.
Popovich wouldn't touch any questions about Oakley or Knicks president Phil Jackson's relationship with Anthony, but did agree that stability off the court helps his team have success on it.
"I don't have a drama meter to prove one way or the other, but less drama makes my job easier and that's good enough for me," said Popovich, who added that winning in general makes things better.
"The grass looks greener and the sky's blue more often when you win a game than lose a game," he said.
After their tough stretch, the grass was covered by sleet and freezing rain in New York on Sunday morning.
Spurs: Visit Indiana on Monday, their first meeting of the season.
Knicks: Visit Oklahoma City on Wednesday for their final game before the All-Star break.
If Russell Westbrook wants to get back on track as a triple-double machine, he might find some success in Oklahoma City's Wednesday night game against the Chicago Bulls.
When the New Orleans Pelicans host the Toronto Raptors at the Smoothie King Center on Wednesday night in the second contest of a three-game homestand, they will be looking for ways to avoid shooting themselves in the foot.
After sweeping a five-game homestand to take a commanding lead in the Central Division, the resurgent Detroit Pistons take their show on the road Wednesday night when they face the Milwaukee Bucks at the Bradley Center.