Game No. 5: Raptors 90, Knicks 85

After a couple of late collapses in Dallas and Orlando, the Raptors went into The Garden and stole a W from the “powerhouse” Knicks (more on them later). Yes, the Knicks were missing Amare Stoudemire, but they’re also a legitimate playoff team in the East and probably one of the top 10 teams in the NBA, so beating them in New York is still impressive.

Not to mention, a lot of people would make the argument that Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler are both better basketball players than anyone on the Raptors roster right now.

All in all, it was a solid, hard fought road victory for the young Raptors, and perhaps a disheartening loss for “Tank Nation.”

Now let’s get to my personal thoughts on the game.

1- Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan showed once again that they are capable of becoming a decent scoring combination. Not great, but capable to say the least. The pair combined for 42 points (21 each) on 14-of-26 shooting and 12-of-14 from the free throw line. Both got off to hot starts in the first quarter, cooled off towards the middle of the game, then made some big shots down the stretch. For Bargnani, it caps a great road trip from an offensive standpoint, as he totaled 79 points over three games on 28-of-52 (53.8 per cent) shooting and 20-of-23 from the charity stripe.

I still want to see more rebounds from Andrea and want to see this defensive effort over a longer period of time, but after five games, it’s not a stretch to say that Bargnani is playing at an All Star level. He’s been that good.

2- Rasual Butler. Given the fact that I’m looking at this season as a building and growing year for the young core currently in place, I’ll rarely write much about some of the veterans on the team, but tonight, I’ll give Rasual Butler some love. After looking a little out of place on this team through the first four games and not being able to hit the broad side of a barn, Butler came through with by far his best performance in Raptors red on Monday night. He finished with a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds and looked to be playing his butt off on the defensive end against Carmelo Anthony. As for his shot, Rasual finally got it going, and made a couple of big time shots to stop Knicks runs before they got out of control.

3- Amir’s silly fouls. I don’t know how many more times we’re going to have to talk about it, but man, does Amir Johnson make some silly decisions on the court. I’m a big Amir fan and still think there is a lot of untapped potential in that 6-9 body of his, but he has to eventually learn to be more focused and more disciplined out there. Some of his fouls just come as a result of playing balls to the wall every minute that he’s on the floor, but some are the result of very questionable decision making. On one occasion tonight, the Raptors got a stop, were running a fast break, and never got a chance to finish it because Amir threw an arm out at his man running up the floor about 20 feet behind the play. On another occasion, the Knicks had just missed a shot, Amir went up for a 50-50 ball with Tyson Chandler, and blatantly yanked at Chandler’s jersey in clear sight of the refs. There are two fouls Amir could have saved himself from with better judgment.

4- Ed Davis’ minutes. Last week, in my “Early Numbers to Consider” post, I mentioned that I was a little surprised that Ed Davis had only averaged 19 minutes per game after two contests. After all, I was and still am expecting Davis to take a step forward this season. Since writing that, Davis has gone on to play just 46 minutes in the last three games. In total, he’s played only 84 minutes in five games for an average of 16.8 per game. When he is out there, he seems tentative on offence, and also looks to be a little more foul-prone on defence than I remember last season. I’m not sure if it’s the adjustment to the added pounds of muscle, the adjustment to a new coach, or just an old-fashioned “sophomore slump,” but whatever it is, something doesn’t seem right with Ed Davis. It will be interesting to watch how the big man responds to the first real slump of his young career.

5- A note on the Knicks now. With a defensive presence in the middle in Tyson Chandler and some familiarity between Amare and Carmelo, I think they are a much improved team from last season. To me, they should beat out the aging Celtics for the Atlantic Division crown and even win a playoff series this year. But beyond that, you’re expecting too much from this team. They’re very good, but they’re not great, and certainly not good enough to compete for a championship, as some believe they can. Quite simply, jump-shooting teams that don’t play consistent defence don’t win NBA championships, and with Anthony and Stoudemire both in the team’s long-term plans, that’s probably going to be their identity for the next few years. The Knicks are relevant again, will probably make a couple of playoff runs, but ultimately, won’t get a ring as presently constructed.

6- I was impressed with this Raptors team after their win in Cleveland and effort against the Pacers in the home opener, but I’m more impressed with them after this three-game road trip. The young Raps went toe-to-toe with three very good, very experienced teams with aspirations much higher than theirs, and for the most part, stood their ground. Sure, there was the over-celebration after clawing back but achieving nothing in Dallas, then the blown 16-point lead in Orlando, but overall, Toronto competed admirably against the Mavs, Magic and Knicks. Other than one stretch of the second quarter in Dallas or the finish to that game, the Raptors were either leading or within striking distance for the duration of every game on this trip.

When it’s all said and done, the Raps emerge from the tough trip with a 1-2 record and a 2-3 record overall. At this point, based on their play and record, they’re already exceeding my expectations.

Raptors Player of the Game: Andrea Bargnani – 38 Min, 21 Pts, 7-13 FG, 0-2 3PT, 7-8 FT, 5 Reb, 1 Ast, 3 TO (You can take your pick of Bargnani, DeRozan or Calderon for Raptors Player of the Game)

Knicks Player of the Game: Carmelo Anthony – 42 Min, 35 Pts, 13-31 FG, 4-9 3PT, 5-8 FT, 11 Reb, 4 Ast, 1 Stl, 3 TO (I didn’t think ‘Melo was as good offensively as his 35 points suggest, but I’ll give him credit for hauling in 11 boards to go with his scoring)