SAN ANTONIO — Being embarrassed made the Knicks change their approach and maybe their season. That resulted in putting out more effort and playing more like a team.
The New Year’s night loss in Chicago, in which the Knicks set a franchise low for a fourth quarter by scoring eight points, still gnaws at them. But it has served as the springboard to how they’ve played since.
There have been some bright moments during the Knicks’ three-game winning streak against the Hawks and Heat, but it was the dark place they were in one week ago in Chicago that set things in motion.
“A game like that, man, as individuals, as competitors, that eats you up,” Carmelo Anthony said. “Long bus ride to the airport, long flight home, long ride home once you get in — that eats you up. And then you’ve got to sit there and watch that, watch that game, watch that film. I watched it over and over the day after that.
“As competitors, if a game like that don’t eat you up, something is wrong.”
After the Bulls outscored the Knicks 31-8 in the fourth quarter, Derek Fisher called out the players and said they “gave in.’’
The Knicks (18-19), who already have surpassed last season’s victory total, have controlled the last three games against two of the Eastern Conference’s top teams. They beat the Hawks twice and the Heat once — with the last two coming on this road trip — by a total of 28 points. They have defended harder and played with more intensity and chemistry, and Anthony hasn’t had to carry them.
The Knicks will need all of that and more to have any chance of upsetting the Spurs (31-6), who are 21-0 at home this season, in the finale of this three-game trip.
“Players are smarter than we give them a lot of credit for at times,” Fisher said. “They’re more prideful and take this job more seriously than people think. I thought after the Chicago game, not necessarily what I said but how they felt about it themselves was a real turning point.”
The players agreed.
“We’ve turned things around so far,” Anthony said. “I don’t want to say that you need games like that, but that game right there, hopefully it sparked something in everybody.”
“I think it still sits inside us and we just want to be a better team,” Kristaps Porzingis said. “These last three games are showing we want to take the next step and sacrifice to be a better team.”
The Spurs have won 30 straight home games dating to March 12. But the Knicks are going into Tim Duncan’s house brimming with confidence.
“It don’t get easy for us,” Anthony said. “We have to go in there with the same mentality and try to win that game as well. It’s going to be tough for us, but we feel we can do it.”
Anthony continues to play a more complete game. He’s defending, rebounding and setting up his teammates, and they’ve come through during this winning streak.
Arron Afflalo averaged 30.5 points in the two games against Atlanta. Robin Lopez scored a season-high 19 in Miami. Porzingis has been solid and the bench has produced.
“A week in this business is an eternity,” Fisher said. “One week it looks like we don’t know what we’re doing and the next week we look pretty decent.”
Notes & quotes: Despite Twitter support from LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Porzingis, Anthony remained fourth among Eastern Conference frontcourt players in second returns of the All-Star voting. James, Paul George and Andre Drummond are ahead of Anthony. He trails Drummond by 5,622 votes. The top three start in the Feb. 14 game in Toronto . . . Knicks ratings on the MSG Network are up 15 percent from last season.