After looking like the Knicks might run away with it at one point in the first half, the Raptors turned the tables and ended up cruising to their third straight pre-season win and fourth overall in front of what sounded like an awesome capacity crowd in Montreal.
I maintain, like most of you, that pre-season results mean next to nothing, but this was by far Toronto’s most impressive performance of the exhibition schedule thus far.
Here are some thoughts on the game:
- I wasn’t there, but from the sounds of it, the sold out Montreal crowd was energetic and loud, just like they were the last time the Raptors and Knicks met at the Bell Centre in 2010. I realize that the novelty factor comes into effect when discussing non-NBA markets getting pre-season games, but I guarantee you that there are plenty of American cities that wouldn’t be able to get 22,114 fans for an exhibition contest. Bravo, Montreal, bravo. Here’s hoping that somewhere along the line, Montreal and Vancouver will pop up as potential relocation or expansion options.
- I was interested in watching Jonas Valanciunas match up against Tyson Chandler since Chandler is one of the most commonly cited comparisons for Valanciunas, and for the most part, I though Big V handled himself well. He ran into foul trouble early on (though he only deserved two or three of his five fouls) and wasn’t able to get into his rhythm through three quarters, but Valanciunas was impressive in the fourth quarter, and overall, found a way to make an impact despite some adversity. That’s an encouraging sign for Raptors fans, and a sign that the youngster can adapt and adjust to situations quickly.
- What a difference a couple of nights can make. On Wednesday, I commended Andrea Bargnani’s defensive effort but voiced my concern for his offence and his left calf contusion, which forced him to leave the game against Washington early. On Friday night, Bargnani enjoyed his best game of the pre-season on both ends of the floor. He was active on defence, picking up two blocks, and was more aggressive in looking for his offence. His 8/21 shooting performance, which included another tough night from three-point range (2/6), obviously indicates that he still hasn’t found his shot, but this game was a positive step in the right direction for Il Mago with less than two weeks to go until the season opener.
- While Bargnani still hasn’t found his three-point stroke, the Raptors as a team might have, at least for one night. The Raps converted 12 of 26 three-point attempts to put the game away, an especially crucial advantage in a game where the Knicks were a paltry 5-of-27 from behind the arc.
- Sticking with the three-point theme, Landry Fields still can’t buy a three. Again, Fields has been great moving off of the ball to get himself some easier buckets and has been his usual dependent self on the defensive end, but his shooting struggles from long range cannot be denied after missing a couple more wide open threes in this game. On the one hand, Fields is a smart player who won’t be chucking away if he recognizes that his shot isn’t falling (he’s only attempted six three-pointers through five games, making one). But at the same time, the Raptors will need him to rediscover his rookie form from behind the arc at some point.
- The point guard depth continues to be a story. Kyle Lowry looked good in putting up 17 points on just 11 field goal attempts (including going 5-of-6 from deep) and cutting through the defence with his court vision and passing. Jose Calderon was fine off the bench (though porous again defensively) in relief of Lowry, while John Lucas III continues to be the definition of instant offence, scoring 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting in just under nine minutes of floor time. In addition, with the Knicks employing a two-point guard lineup that includes Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton, we got a more extended look at some two-PG lineups of our own.
- On the injury front, Ed Davis failed to see any minutes with what seems like a minor issue (Coach Casey had mentioned that Davis had a sore “behind end”), while Terrence Ross returned to the lineup after missing Wednesday’s game with a sore knee, though the rookie only saw five minutes of action.
- As I mentioned above, I put very little stock in pre-season results. In addition, I understand that a veteran team like the Knicks, especially, cannot be judged by how they look in meaningless mid October games. I also understand that Amare Stoudemire had yet to play a game this season before Friday night’s encounter. But having said all of that, I’m not very convinced by this version of the Knickerbockers. They’ll be held back offensively as long as Carmelo Anthony is there, they’re comedically old and fragile, and as good as he is, Tyson Chandler can’t anchor a great defence all by himself.
Sure, they should be a better basketball team than the Raptors this season, and if I absolutely had to put money on it, I would bet that they will be. But they’re also very vulnerable to a complete meltdown and implosion, and I wouldn’t put the Atlantic basement out of the realm of possibility for them either.
- Just two games remain on the pre-season schedule, with the Raptors hosting the Bucks on Monday night before heading to Memphis for the pre-season finale on Friday night. Those final couple of games should give us a good idea of the eight to 10-man rotation Dwane Casey plans to use this season, though if the last five games have taught us anything, it’s that this team might be even deeper than that.