Game No. 30: Knicks 90, Raptors 87

For three quarters, the Raptors outplayed, outworked and simply out-classed the Knicks. They did it by finding a way to keep Jeremy Lin in check for the most part, forcing him into tough shots and turnovers while Jose Calderon put on another ridiculous offensive performance on the other end of the floor.

Then the fourth quarter came, the Raptors committed nine turnovers, Lin matched Toronto’s entire fourth quarter point output and the Knicks finished the game on a 13-1 run, capped by a LINsane three-pointer with half a second left on the clock. The legend grows.

Now here are some thoughts on the game:

1- I’ve used the phrase “what a crowd” or “what an atmosphere” a few times this season, but Tuesday night’s crowd and atmosphere made previous ones look like amateur hour, including the great one in the ACC for the Lakers on Sunday. It started well before tip-off, with a noticeable buzz outside the Air Canada Centre and logjams at the entrances that I hadn’t seen since Game 1 of the Nets playoff series in 2007. It continued with a nice championship ring presentation for Dwane Casey, fans cheering the first few times Jeremy Lin touched the ball, booing Lin through the second and third quarters, and ended with mixed feelings and 20,000 people on their feet as the Taiwanese-American sensation hit the game-winner. The final scene left a noticeable amount of fans chanting “Je-re-my” as they filed through the exits. On a sidenote, the most used sign of the night was “Be my vaLINtine.”

2- Linsanity? I’m sold. Okay, I may not be as big a believer as some, and I don’t think Lin is going to be a full time superstar for years to come, but I do think he can be an above average, dynamic point guard in the NBA. He’s a pass-first point guard who sees the court well (though he still commits way, way too many turnovers), reads the situation and adjusts to it, is obviously willing and able to score in bunches when he has to and isn’t afraid to take the big shot. Is he going to average 25 and eight and single-handedly lead a team to contender status? No.  Can he be the starting point guard on a legitimate playoff team with enough appeal to be an All Star one day? Yes. Lin is set to become a restricted free agent after this season, and I would have to assume that the Knicks will give him at least a short extension before then, but if for some reason they don’t, or Lin holds out to become an RFA, I’m all for paying him.

3- What happened in the fourth quarter really was a complete reversal of the script that had been written through the first three quarters. The Raptors were absolutely dominating the Knicks on the boards heading into the fourth, where the Knicks then grabbed six of their 11 total offensive rebounds in the final frame and ultimately won the game on a shot they got because of an offensive rebound and second chance. In looking at it that way, it really was a tough loss for Toronto. The Raps did almost everything right for 36 minutes or so, but failed to close it out.

4- Despite what transpired over the last six minutes, I was impressed with the Raptors’ defence yet again in this one. Toronto held New York to just 41 per cent shooting and blocked 11 shots as a team compared to just two blocks for the Knicks. The Raptors’ undoing was not being able to close out defensive possessions with secured rebounds down the stretch.

5- After going his entire career (six-plus seasons) without recording a 30-point game, Jose Calderon looked well on his way to his second straight game of 30 or more in this one, with 25 points on the board after three quarters. Jeremy Lin will get all of the credit and hype for the way the game ended and his overall play over the last six games, but make no mistake, the tide of momentum turned in New York’s favour when rookie Iman Shumpert began guarding Calderon in the fourth quarter, holding the Spaniard scoreless in the final frame. Jose put together another solid performance for Toronto, but his dry spell in the fourth and a couple of uncharacteristic turnovers down the stretch really cost the Raptors.

6- I don’t want to take too much away from Jeremy Lin or the Knicks for their hard fought win, but I have to mention the large free throw discrepancy between the two teams. Both teams played hard, aggressive basketball for most of the game. Both teams attacked the basket, both teams were physical, and yet the Knicks had a 27-15 advantage in free throw attempts and were called for just 18 personal fouls compared to the Raptors’ 28.

***

Overall, the Raptors and Knicks gave the standing-room only crowd of 20,092 one of the best basketball games of the season, and the ‘interesting’ crowd gave the two teams one of the best atmospheres, if not the best, they will experience this year. I’m still not sure what to make of the divided crowd. It was definitely pro-Raptors, and I don’t remember the Knicks getting any cheers while Jeremy Lin was on the bench. But with Lin on the floor handing the ball, it was simply electric in that building. There were two guys sitting beside me who were clearly cheering for the Raptors, but also cheering madly for Lin. They applauded Amir Johnson’s big blocks late in the game and cheered for Raptors baskets, but when Lit hit “the shot,” the same two guys exploded in hysterical euphoria.

I had a hard time trying to separate who was just cheering for the Raptors, who was cheering for the Raptors but hoping Lin had a good game, who was just cheering for Lin and who was just cheering for the Knicks. Good luck figuring it out.

Raptors Player of the Game: Jose Calderon – 39 Min, 25 Pts, 11-17 FG, 3-5 3PT, 7 Reb, 9 Ast, 3 Stl, 1 Blk, 4 TO

Knicks Player of the Game: Jeremy Lin – 43 Min, 27 Pts, 9-20 FG, 2-2 3PT, 7-11 FT, 2 Reb, 11 Ast, 1 Stl, 8 TO