Game No. 46: Knicks 106, Raptors 87
The last time the Raptors lost a stinker to the historically feeble Bobcats, they responded with an energetic home victory over the lottery bound Pistons. Despite reinserting Jose Calderon into the lineup, the Raps were far less impressive in their post-Bobcats loss this time around, essentially letting the rejuvenated Knicks have their way all night.
Now here are some thoughts on the game.
1- The Raptors played the Knicks tough in their first two meetings of the season, which the two teams split, but the Knicks were missing one of Amare Stoudemire or Carmelo Anthony in each of those games. With the clubs sporting full rosters against each other for the first time this season, the Knicks’ advantage in the talent department became painfully clear. Though I will say, considering how nonchalant the Raptors’ effort was in this game and how hard the Knicks seemed to be playing, New York didn’t really dominate Toronto as much as they should have. Sure, the final 19-point spread looks dominating enough, but if you watched this game, you surely noticed that outside of a stretch in the third quarter and a five minute stretch in the fourth quarter where the Raptors shot themselves in the foot, the Knicks really let the Raps hang around for most of the night.
2- I mentioned the Raptors’ nonchalant effort above. Nowhere was that lack of effort more visible than on the boards, where the Knicks out-rebounded Toronto 46-30 and tracked down 16 offensive rebounds compared to the Raptors’ measly four. Something as simple as the rebounding numbers can’t always tell the story of a game, but in this case, those numbers put it perfectly.
3- The hot topic of discussion at RaptorBlog on Monday was whether or not Jerryd Bayless should get the starting nod over Jose Calderon for the remainder of the season. In his return to the lineup on Wednesday night in New York, Calderon finished with 11 points on five-of-nine shooting to go with nine assists, a rebound, a block and three turnovers in 35 minutes of action. Bayless was forced to leave the game in the fourth quarter with what the team is calling a “hip pointer,” but finished with some decent numbers considering he played just 13 minutes – seven points, four assists, three rebounds, two steals, two turnovers. An injury that keeps Bayless out of the lineup obviously effects any point guard battle we were hoping for down the stretch, but in a small sample size tonight, I thought he was at least as good as Calderon.
4- DeMar DeRozan was probably the Raptors best player tonight, but that’s not saying much. DeRozan wasn’t particularly good defensively, but he was good enough on the offensive end when he actually wanted to get a shot off. The problem is that DeRozan ended up with just 13 shots, a testament to how his teammates often forget about him and a bigger testament to how DeMar isn’t nearly aggressive enough with his offence. This was the type of game where the Raps needed someone to get to the hoop and score for them to keep the team in it. DeRozan seemed more than capable in the few instances when he did attack the basket, but never looked serious about building on one good offensive trip with another. If ever there was a game where it would have been okay for DeMar to force the issue on offence, this was it. His reluctance to do that is yet another sign of why the 22-year-old is nowhere near ready to become an elite NBA scorer.
5- So the Knicks are playing some decent ball, huh? Since replacing the overrated Mike D’Antoni with Mike Woodson, New York is 4-0, with those four wins coming by 42, 15, 14 and now 19 points, respectively. If you’re counting, that’s an average margin of victory of 22.5 points. The Knicks have shown flashes like this at various points over the last two seasons, only to eventually fall flat on their faces time and time again. The difference this time is that they’re doing it with defence, holding opponents to just 88.5 points per game during the four game stretch. While they have enough talent to be a contender with the right attitude and the right defensive approach, I just can’t see a Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire-led team playing with this level of defensive intensity for an extended period of time. If Woodson can pull it off though, it’s interesting to note that the Knicks are now just four games behind the slumping 76ers for first place in the Atlantic Division.
If New York can ride a wave of defensive momentum to a division title and home court in the first round, they suddenly become a very dangerous team in the Eastern Conference playoffs. If they don’t continue to lock down on defence though, and end up finishing with the seventh or eighth spot, they’ll be a simple first round tune-up for the Bulls or Heat.
6-While the Raptors looked atrocious in this game, are coming off of a loss to the Bobcats and sit at 15-31 overall, a testament to how Dwane Casey is changing the culture of the team came in MSG Network’s pre-game coverage. I sat and watched in amazement as Clyde Drexler talked about how the Knicks were in for a challenge because the Raptors are now a rough and tumble team that will “hack you and wack you” and generally play competitive basketball. Obviously the Raps failed to live up to Clyde’s words in this one, but the fact that people are actually talking about the Raptors as a team that will fight you tooth and nail and not a team that you can simply look past on your schedule anymore is a step in the right direction, as small a step as that might be.
In a measure of that new found competitiveness, this was only the third time in their past 23 games that the Raptors have suffered a double-digit loss, despite the fact that they’re 8-15 during that stretch. For the most part, the last two months have gone pretty much to script for the diehard Tank Nation supporters. Let’s just hope that the team can rebound from this performance, or lack thereof, and show up on Wednesday night against the Bulls, because in case you haven’t been paying attention, that Bulls team will flat out destroy a team that played the way the Raptors did at The Garden on Tuesday.
Raptors Player of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 37 Min, 17 Pts, 7-13 FG, 3-3 FT, 5 Reb, 1 TO
Knicks Player of the Game: Amare Stoudemire – 34 Min, 22 Pts, 8-13 FG, 6-7 FT, 12 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk, 2 TO (Jeremy Lin’s double-double of 18 points and 10 assists is worth mentioning here too)